Cattle formidable foes under stress

By Baxter Black: QCS columnist

“Isn’t that Larry’s heifer?” asked Dick.

The two-year old black whiteface was running down the fence line along Highway 90. Traffic was moderate on the 4-lane highway. The shoulder was not smooth. Arroyos and ridges thick with rocks and brush made any chase risky.

“Pull over,” said Dick.

The south gate was new. It had a cattle guard but no cattle gate beside it. Dick turned the frightened cow back to the north.

“Call Larry!” he shouted to his wife in the truck.

Larry’s wife took the call. Within five minutes Larry had appeared and stationed himself by the north gate to turn the heifer. She was smart enough or scared enough to stay off the highway but she became unreasonable. Larry knew her well. She would actually eat feed out of his hand. He was surprised by her rowdy behavior.

It is a common flaw in cowmen. They form opinions about specific animals. They come to trust them. I’ve seen grown men (like me) put two year old kids on the back of tame Brahma bulls. But cows can revert to their primitive behavioral origins. I don’t mean baby calf, I mean buffalo, mastodon, Tyrannosaurus holstein. It is a scientific phenomenon called “getting on the fight.”

Some external stimulus or internal metabolic reaction can change a gentle herbivore into a maddened beast. We see this in other species — rabid dogs, a locoed horse or a 4-H parent whose child’s pig didn’t win grand champion.

Anyway, Larry stood his ground, a few feet beyond the gate. She was running full speed. He spoke to her, actually held out his hand as she approached him at the speed of beef. In his mind, despite the obvious, he must have thought she would remember their relationship and settle down.

Dick said she hit Larry full frontal right in the chest. He went backwards like she’d pushed him off a cliff. She stood above him between his legs, looking down at his face. Maybe she recognized him, who knows.

About that time Dick spooked her and she ran right through the fence. Larry lay there flat.

“Can you get up?” asked Dick.

“I tried to,” said Larry, “but the ref was just counting four. I decided to wait for the eight count.”