Sunday, June 15, 2008

Betty's Heifer

Betty’s Heifer
©Ken Harris, 2008

Back in the 1960s in Auburn, California, Jack and Betty Veal lived on some acreage with their horses, cattle, chickens and other family members including a white faced heifer whom they felt was ready to be introduced to a gentleman cow. Unfortunately for a good many of us, Betty’s heifer did not want to be introduced to any gentleman cow, thank you very much.

Betty hitched her two-horse trailer to the pickup, removed the divider so that the heifer would have plenty of room once she was loaded, and put a little hay and grain on the floor in front of the trailer, something to entice the beast inside. But the heifer wasn’t having any of it. Hay and grain were all right in their place, and that place in a manger or feed rack, certainly not on a floor inside of a trailer. The heifer wouldn’t go in the trailer.

Betty called her friends to help. Joanne and I responded to the call, along with our horse, Legend, in case we needed some good old fashioned cow ponying. Carolyn Geier also brought her horse. Ina Robinson, Max and Jonie Fields, and Woody Bexar formed the rest of our excessively brave and foolish crew.

The plan was to herd the cow into the trailer quickly and painlessly and then treat ourselves to self-congratulatory brewskis. Unfortunately, nobody consulted the heifer.

First, the heifer didn’t want to be herded. Joanne and Carolyn tried to sandwich her between their horses and guide her toward the trailer. The heifer was having none of that, however, and made a 90° turn to the left and ran under Joanne’s horse toward a fence. The horse, Legend, was somewhat surprised by this antic, but she had been used as an endurance horse, a cart horse, a trail driving horse, a parade horse and a carrier of small nieces and nephews. In fact, we had asked her to do everything but tap dance. So she didn’t panic when the heifer ran under her. She just thought it was unusual and raised her front legs so the heifer could proceed unmolested toward the fence.

The fence, now, that was really going to bring the cow up short. It stood four feet tall and proud, heavy gauge field fencing attached to thick, steel posts. Surely this fine fence would hold the cow.

But, actually, the fine fence didn’t hold the cow. The fine fence didn’t even slow this cow down. She ploughed through the fence and proceeded westward dragging ten yards of fencing and T-posts behind her. I am sure that when Leonardo first conceived of the tank he had just seen a runaway cow.

We followed behind the heifer as best we could. She faced another fence and slowed for it and so we caught up. By that time she had shed her field fence adornment. As we urged her trailerward, she took out the second fence and off she went again. We followed in her wake, confidence now replaced by desperation. We soon left the boundaries of the Veal ranchette and proceeded down a draw filled with scrub oak, poison oak, rocks and brambles. I began to wonder if we were going to have to follow her to Marysville, some thirty miles away. Suddenly Woody Bexar got close enough to the the cow to get a loop around her neck. He quickly ran to an oak tree that fortunately grew nearby and took a dally. The Cow hit the end of the rope and the earth around the oak tree quivered. The cow dropped like a rock.

We quickly loosened the noose around her neck because we didn’t want her to die on us, not there, not a half mile from the nearest motorized pulley. Skinning and dressing out a cow with a Swiss army knife and then packing it out was just not an option. She soon regained consciousness, but then she just lay there, flat on her belly, front and back legs pointing back, just as though she had splatted on the spot from an airplane overhead. In an attempt to motivate her to move, Joanne and Carolyn attached lassoes around the animal’s neck and began to drag her toward the trailer and her gentleman suitor. Surely she would yield to force majeur, and get onto her feet and follow along rather than have her head pulled off. Surely.

No. Surely not. Joanne and Carolyn dragged her on her belly, leaving a trail a foot wide and three inches deep in the scrub oak duff. She was easy to track that way, but we didn’t need to track her. We already knew where she was.

We loosened the rope, but we were still many, many yards away from anywhere useful. Our next idea was to sever a hot wire from a nearby electric fence and hold it to her nose. That motivated her to move rapidly, but just far enough from the hot fence to where we could no longer shock her. Then she dropped again. But she outsmarted herself and fell near a puddle of water. One of us collected some water in a felt hat and poured it in her ear. The idea was to persuade the animal she was drowning and maybe she would swim cross country toward the trailer. Stupid as the idea was, it worked – for fifty feet. Then down she went again.

At this point we began to think in terms of a barbeque right there, on that particular spot. Or better yet, just shoot the he cow dead and go to church bingo that very night.

Somehow, though, after several hours and the expenditure of much energy, we got the animal to within two hundred feet of the trailer. Unfortunately for us, close as we were to the trailer, there was a large barn in the way. And brutal as you may think us, that heifer was in a lot better shape than we were.

At that point Betty Veal’s husband, Jack, drove up. He saw our problem and at once announced a solution. First, he opened the barn doors on both sides of the building so that we had a straight shot at the trailer. Then, the trailer already having been prepared for the heifer’s virginal entrance, Jack stationed two of us to quickly slam the ramp up and lock it once the calf had entered. These preparations made, Jack picked up a pair of offset pliers and grabbed the heifer’s nasal septum and gave it a sharp twist.

The heifer sprang up with a roar and began to chase Jack with lethal intent. Jack had no desire to die that day, and so he ran for the trailer. Very fast. He was highly motivated. He didn’t dare let go of the pliers or slow down, either one. He flew into the trailer, closely followed by a fire breathing heifer. And then, as the ramp clanged shut behind him, he let go of the pliers and dove head first out trailer’s safety door up front. He let the heifer have the pliers.

And so we had our brewskies after all and finished the day covered with blood, sweat and beers. The heifer, meanwhile, left in the trailer on her way to meet her gentleman cow. Aint love grand?


NorCal Cazadora said...

Holy cow, this is hilarious... Not just one, but many, many belly laughs. :-)

Spin said...


I'm an old, old friend of Betty and was looking her up online and came across this story. Sounds like her. So you know where she might be kicking these days? Thanks.


Ken said...

Hi Lynda,

Betty died a few years ago. The once mighty forest of Robie Rough Riders is getting pretty thin.