Less Talk, More Action

Have you ever heard the advice to use action words to describe your experience and assets when writing your resume?  Potential employers want to be entertained just as much as the rest of us.  They want to know what you can do and not fall asleep while reading about it.  You know, like this:

Job Title:  Master Castration Assistant and Novice Ranch Hand (Dec. 2017):

Duties:  Secured young bulls’ hind quarters via tail and one rear leg while Rancher surgically transformed them from bulls into steers.  Promoted to Junior Gate-Juggler concurrent with hind-quarter responsibilities.  Mastered teamwork necessary to help herd each nervous patient through network of increasingly smaller pens and chutes until they reached operating table enclosure.

Achievements:  Miraculously maintained steely grip on own stomach and the contents therein throughout the entire procedure.  Promoted to Ranch Hand at the end of the day.

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Not too shabby, huh?

John (Head Honcho) and his wife, Carol (Co-Honcho), suggested I add this new skillset to my workamping resume after helping them castrate this year’s bull calves.  I have mentioned these friends in other posts.  They have been raising cattle in north Texas for 55 years, and they do it the old fashioned way, doing most of the work themselves, including birthing, tagging, weighing, inoculating, castrating, weaning, and so on.

One Lucky Heifer

This visit, they let me assist during the messy task of castrating 10 bulls.  It was supposed to be 11, but one lucky calf, upon closer examination, turned out to be a heifer (see glossary of cow-terms below).  That became apparent once she was on the table and John couldn’t find what he was looking for.

When John first started raising cattle, a local teen showed him how to do the castration.  At that time, he had no special equipment beyond ropes and a sharp blade.  They literally tackled the young bulls and did the deed as quickly as possible.  He had to learn an awful lot the hard way.  A momma cow just about took him out one time with a good head-butt.

Momma’s Watchful Eye

Carol joined John sixteen years into the endeavor.  One of her early jobs before they had a network of pens to control the herd’s location and movement was to keep the Mommas away until John finished each calf.  Picture a 98 pound woman shooing off a 1,200 pound cow intent upon dealing with those mean men who just tackled her calf.  Ya.

Their calves are Angus Source Certified in accordance with USDA and Angus Association requirements.  Operations like theirs are the start of what you eventually see in your grocery store labeled as Certified Angus Beef, which is among the highest quality beef you can buy.  Great care is taken in the raising of these calves in order to meet strict requirements.  Carol is in charge of the meticulous record keeping necessary to maintain this qualification.

Whenever I visit my rancher friends, they treat me to a delicious steak grilled over an open fire.  I appreciate each year’s meal even more than the last as I learn more about the hard work and dedication that goes into raising our food, especially by small, private operations.  For the vegetarians out there, the same applies to the farmers that grow our vegetables, fruit, and grain.

A Texas-sized ‘thank you’ to all those hard workers and to my friends, Carol and John, for yet another wonderful, educational, mind-opening, resume-padding visit.  Who knows… If I time my next visit just right, I might gain another new skill for that resume:  Assistant Cow Midwife.

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Glossary of Cow Terms:

Cattle:  Generic term that covers all the members of a herd.

Cow:  A female who has given birth.  Also used generically to refer to all the members of a herd.

Calf:  Juvenile member of the herd, generally under two years old.  Refers to either male or female.

Bull:  A non-castrated male, either adult or juvenile, the latter often referred to as bull calf.

Steer:  A male castrated before reaching sexual maturity.

Heifer:  A young female who has not given birth.

Cows, and Then Some!

Dawny got an eyeful of cows and we both got some great country walks on our vacation from our vacation!  My bonus was a few extra pounds put onto my very spoiled self by our hosts’ incredible cooking, which included home made pecan pie (I pronounce that correctly now), fire-broiled steaks (of the melt-in-your-mouth variety), and meal after meal of just simple good country cookin’.  Our Texas friends, Carol and John, could not have been more gracious, generous, and accommodating.

We took a couple of day trips through the local countryside.  North Texas is beautiful.  We saw Gene Autry’s home town and drove by Randy Travis’ estate.  Pastures, lakes, and vineyards, small towns with their town squares (including the bank from the movie Bonnie & Clyde), country roads and big-city suburban traffic snarls–all painted in North Texas hues.

The area is blanketed by gently rolling hills and is home to some of the best horse country there is.  The soil is sandy, rather than the clay you find further south, and it is easy on horses’ legs and good for growing the grasses they love to chomp on.

I learned about that from Carol, who went to Agricultural College after she met John and began helping him with his ranch.  If she gets herself a lamb to raise, she will have all the agricultural animals covered.  At this point she and John have raised cattle, horses (wild ones, which Carol personally and patiently tamed), chickens, pigs, goats, and donkeys.  They have simplified over the years and now work just a small herd of cattle.

And then there’s their dog Ashley, who Dawny decided was an arch enemy in her quest to take the ranch over for herself!  I love Dawny, but sometimes I think she’s a bit of an idiot.  Ashley was wooed from a pack of wild, abandoned dogs that had been frequenting the area.  Carol and John  worked tirelessly to gain her trust and draw her into their garage so she could give birth to a litter of 12–yes, 12!!!–pups that winter many years ago.  Ashley is now firmly ensconced in her self-selected abode under the backyard shed, unless it thunders and lightenings, at which point she comes inside to cower next to John and Carol until Father Weather calms down.

FullSizeRender-609John has had his ranch for over 50 years.  Carol has been with him for over 35 of them.  Theirs is a second marriage for both.  They met while their respective children (teens at the time) played in a soccer league.  Both divorced, they recognized kindred spirits in one another and had the gumption to give the whole love connection another go.

Rarely will you meet a couple who completes and complements each other so well.  They weave in and out of each other’s sentences, completing them, or simply filling in a few words mid-sentence, bouncing back and forth, reading each other’s minds with uncanny fluency, pulling from the same memories–although from slightly varying perspectives (hence, you often get some conflicting opinions on what really happened and when, where, why and how).  It’s an amazing thing to watch, especially when the give-and-take is a loving, light-hearted, respectful dance.

Back to more mundane matters, I was hoping to get an opportunity to shoot a cow, but with all the rain, the fields were too wet to be able to move them to the pen where they do inoculations.  John and Carol did get prepared, though, by moving the herd with the young bull in it to the field that had the lone, older bull (let’s call him Hamburger), and then putting Hamburger where the rest of the herd had been.  This had to be done efficiently and quickly as the two bulls needed to be kept a good distance away from each other.

FullSizeRender-628Carol helped with the gates, and John (a.k.a. the Cow-Whisperer) led the herd to the next field by calling them, slinging out feed from a huge feed sack, and working the gates.  The picture here shows John with Hamburger, who weighs in at well over a ton.  A ton.  Of bull.  Think about it.  They are close enough to be bosom buddies there as John leads him with his sack of feed into the field just vacated by the herd and the young bull.

By the way, I just read today that more people are killed by cows than by sharks every year.  That probably mostly happens to people who are careless or don’t know what they are doing.  Or just plain unlucky.  John and Carol work very closely with their herd, though, and they know each other well.  Raising cattle is an art.  And a science.  I was privileged to get a glimpse of both.

After feeding us for a week, Carol and John sent us off with our refrigerator packed with leftovers for another week.  They also gave us a precious souvenir.  For wine-thirty, I can now sit back in my little house wherever we are and reflect upon our friends and our time on their beautiful ranch.  They gave me a wine glass with the name of their ranch etched onto it!

FullSizeRender-617So, cheers!  Cheers to Carol and John, who through their southern grace made Dawny and me feel welcome beyond welcome.  Cheers to Ashley, who protects her people and her turf with a gentle, laid-back, but firm, ranch-dog personality from upstarts like Dawny Virgil Prewash Sassy…  as well as from the coyotes we heard in the evenings singing with raucous abandon (I had to wonder what they were drinking!).

And cheers to all the farmers and ranchers throughout this country who work incredibly long, hard hours and against often capricious odds (thank you Father Weather) with a dedication and love that few know, and we would all be better off if more understood.