Spring time at the Mathis home means track and field. This past week I’ve been able to watch my daughter run in multiple track meets. I used to think I liked running, but it turns out I like watching her run even more. At one of these meets while waiting for my daughter to run, my attention was captured by the kids competing in the high jump. One kid made an impressive leap, easily clearing the bar which was set at six feet high. I was truly impressed that a middle school kid could get that high. It brought back fond memories of my own high jumping days in high school. I loved the feeling of leaping as high as I could, arching my back, and soaring over that bar, to land on those mats. Performing the Fosbury Flop can feel almost like flying. I longed to get out on the track to try it myself. Other kids were not so graceful, some of them knocking the bar off on their way up, then coming down squarely on the bar on their backs. “Ouch! That’s gonna leave a mark.” I thought to myself.
Spring time at the Mathis home also means calving season. This morning a neighbor that lives just around the corner from me called about a cow in labor that they thought needed my assistance. I informed them that I wasn’t at home, but had just finished surgery on a cow on the other side of the county. But that I could head their way, and be there in about half an hour.
These people aren’t farmers, but have a few cows. They don’t have any where to work these cows, but they’re all big pets, which helps compensate somewhat for the lack of facilities.
So it came as a shock to me when I pulled into the place and saw a chute out with the cows. What shocked me even more was that the chute was 15 feet up in the air on the forks of a front end loader.
As the man came out of the house, I had to ask. “Why is the chute up in the air?” “Well the last time we used it, was on a cow at the bottom of the pasture, but we have the cow under the shed for you so we’re moving it up here.” “Hmmm.” I thought to myself “Wouldn’t it be easier to set it in place with corrals and an alley, and to move the cows to the chute?”
Keep in mind that they’d had a half hour head start to get it in place. But decided to leave it in the air until I got there to actually put it in place.
So I watched as he got in the tractor and started to pull up to the shed where they had the cow confined in a little box built out of panels, barely big enough for her to lie down in. As he gets close, I think he must have gotten confused about which control does what. Because instead of gently lowering the forks holding the chute, he hits the gas, ramming the chute into the roof of the shed, tipping the chute off the forks, and bringing it crashing to the ground. He owns a tractor, but he’s clearly not a heavy equipment operator.
The cow in the tiny panel corral, was already in pain and scared about what was going on before a giant loud tractor tried dumping this metal cage on her head. Now this normally calm “pet” is trying to climb the walls to get away.
Eventually the man running the tractor gets the chute tipped back up and put in place. He then unwired the panel, and slides it over so that there is now a small opening where the cow could enter the chute if she were so inclined. But after the racket of it falling off the tractor, and nearly missing her, she is in no way inclined to go anywhere near it. Our efforts to shoo her that way from outside her tiny little panel corral are proving fruitless.
It’s evident that someone is going to have to get in there with her, to get her into the chute. As I’m the one that needs to get behind her to deliver the calf I decide it may as well be me. So I climb the panel fence, and drop down in the pen with her. She doesn’t try to enter the chute, but elects to take out her frustration on someone trying to drop a chute on her head on me. With no warning she charges. With the very small confines of this “pen” I have very little time to react. But I put my hand on top of the panel and leap. Up and over I sail without even touching the top bar. It was a truly impressive leap (especially for an old out of shape man) and felt almost like flying, sort of like the Fosbury Flop. What an exhilarating feeling!
The cow seeing me escaping focuses her anger on the only part of me still in her pen. My two little fingers clasping the top bar of the panel as my body soars out of the pen. She manages to connect with them, with all of the power and fury she can muster. My fingers are throbbing and swollen, but at least most of me has escaped. “Ouch! That’s gonna leave a mark.” I think to myself.
At this point I decide not to mess with the death trap, that is that chute anymore. I return to my truck, retrieve a lariat, and gently drop it over her head from outside the pen. I then snub her up as close to a solid post on her “pen” as I can before again jumping back in with her.
With a few seconds of painful work (my fingers are swollen and throbbing) I am able to find the tiny cloven foot that was back, and holding up the whole process. Once it is straightened out, the calf slides right out with just gentle traction. After getting it sitting up, and breathing on its own. I exit the pen, before untying the mother. As I do so the crazed killing machine blows snot all over me, then turns to her baby and is suddenly transformed into a kind and caring mother as it cleans off its baby.
I sit and watch in amazement at the beauty of the sight before me. While at the same time being very careful not to lean against the fence, and let my fingers on the inside next to that crazed killing machine.