This is another squeeze chute story. In my world it is the equivalent of a shark attack or a middle-of-the night calving call … a story that sends shivers down my spine.
Monty said he was just along for the ride, helping his neighbor Whitey gather his cows and calves for spring branding.
The roundup went smooth; eight a’horseback in four sections of pretty good country, although they had to backtrack some and rope a couple of small calves that had gotten on the other side of the fence.
It was absentee owner land. The corrals were 20 years old and made of heavy pipe, sheets of steel and sucker rod. Unfortunately, this high-dollar set of pens were apparently designed by a swing set manufacturer, an orthodontist, or that same guy who invented the Rubik’s Cube.
Fences were high and tight, but so far off the ground you could roll a pack mule under the bottom wire. A crowding gate was so heavy it was like closing a vault. The crowding alley was 6 feet high, solid iron with rolling backstops that clanged like railroad cars when they closed.
He showed me his black thumbnail.
Whitey decided to run the cows through for a little Pour-On treatment, to number brand the first-calf heifers and mouth the elders.
“Shouldn't take long,” he said. He asked Monty to run the squeeze chute. As squeeze chutes age they tend to look more and more alike; Priefert, WW, Powder River, Teco … etc. Monty saw the letters P-R-E, but when he scraped it off it read … HISTORIC!
The moving parts were uniformly rusty and crusted. The tailgate, squeeze and head gate all opened and closed, but only about halfway. There always seemed to be a cow’s head poking in through the tailgate, or one on her side, or on her knees, or with a foot stickin’ out, or hiplocked and swingin’ back and forth like the masthead on a clipper ship in a hurricane.
Monty said working the headgate was like trying to fight an octopus crawling through the sunroof of your car. It would either lock partly open or partly closed but never fully opened or fully closed. Half the time he was swinging from the headgate handle, all 160 pounds of him, as Whitey clung to the thrashing cow’s head like a bulldogger, trying to check her teeth.
They worked 106 cows in two hours, missed catching 12 head in the chute, set three on fire and had to guess the age of the last five because the headgate froze open.
Covered with motor oil, cow manure, burnt hair, Pour On and dust, they called it just another romantic cowboy day.
Epilogue: Six days later the squeeze chute was euthanized and is now a cattle guard on a dirt road somewhere to nowhere in the great Southwest. May it rest In pieces.
Baxter Black is a self-described cowboy poet, ex-veterinarian and sorry team roper. He can be contacted at 1-800-654-2550 or by e-mail at: firstname.lastname@example.org