Surprises in town and on the ranch

Cow-Calf Commentary

I think I’ve mentioned here before that I took a winter job at a convenience store in Kimball this year.

I like to take various part-time winter jobs. It gives me something better to do than watch television, puts a bit of extra jingle in my pocket, and allows me to expand my experience base.

That last is probably the most important of my reasons for taking a winter job. We’re only here for a while, and when they throw dirt in your face the sum total of your life will equal exactly the sum total of your experiences.

It was about 5:30 a.m. on a Sunday morning when the girl walked into the convenience store. It was frosty cold outside but she was wearing only shorts and a ratty old sweatshirt. Her feet were bare and dirty. She was probably in her mid-20’s and had short blond hair. Her face was marred by acne scars – or perhaps meth scars. It was early morning on the day after St. Patrick’s Day, and if I had to guess I’d say that she’d been celebrating all night. And possibly for several consecutive nights. She wobbled more than a bit on her bare feet and she was surrounded by a cloud of booze stink. All in all, she was a remarkably unlovely vision.

And she had tears and snot and mascara running down her ravaged face. She was clearly in some kind of ugly predicament.

It took a bit of time and perseverance to make sense of her story. Her speech was slurred from intoxication and she was snuffling and crying and I wasn’t entirely convinced that she even knew what her whole story was. The best I could make out, though, was that she was from Cheyenne, had come to Kimball with friends to party on St. Paddy’s Day, and had been abandoned by her friends. In addition to having no shoes or coat, she had no purse or wallet or money or identification. She only knew the first names of the friends she’d been abandoned by. She didn’t know anyone in Kimball, and didn’t have anyone in Cheyenne she could call, except maybe her landlord, but she didn’t know his full name or number, and she’d lost her cell phone anyway.

Fortunately for the girl, Kimball is a small and generally caring town. I got the girl a cup of coffee and called the police, confident that they’d be able to provide assistance. Within a few minutes an officer arrived and spent some time piecing together the girl’s story. Then he arranged a motel room and meals for her. These things were paid for in part by Kimball’s Aid For Distressed Travelers Fund, which is funded by the Ministerial Association and local government. With a safe place to stay, food, and a chance to sleep and sober up, the girl was able to provide better contact information in Cheyenne, and the next day she was able to
return home.

How will things turn out for the girl? It’s hard to say. My guess is that she’s gotten herself into an ugly fix with drugs, booze and unsavory friends. Young people can make astonishingly bad choices and follow incredibly bad paths. That said, she’s a human being, and in the land where all men are created equal and endowed with natural rights, her behavior doesn’t change her basic humanity.

I’m glad that Kimball is a caring town with a system and resources in place to offer a helping hand in situations like these. As a community our job isn’t – and can’t be – to “fix” people. But we do have a responsibility to help where we can, and to do so with kindness and caring that recognizes the fundamental humanity of even the most unlovely examples of our fellow man

Leaving work that morning, I headed out to check cattle.

When I checked the bred heifers, which are on a section of grass connected to the home place feedlot, I came up one heifer short. I spent some time scouring the gently rolling pasture, to no avail. I finally found the heifer in the feedlot, head in the feed rack where a little bit of hay remained.

I wondered why this heifer was in the feedlot eating hay when her herd mates were grazing new grass out on the pasture. Cattle are herd animals, and rarely separate themselves for long. But this particular heifer was only a quarter mile from the herd, and cattle don’t always behave in textbook fashion. So, no problem. Heifers checked, all present and accounted for, time to get on with the day.

But something wasn’t quite right. Why was this heifer in the feedlot? She wasn’t calving. She didn’t look sick. She was just standing there eating…now, wait a minute. She’s not eating or even chewing her cud. What the heck? Then it dawned on me. She’d managed to get her head stuck between a couple of bars which should have been far too narrow for her head. As I approached her she began to panic a bit and pull back. If she’d have just turned her head a bit, she could have pulled free. But in her agitated state she couldn’t figure it out.

I went to my pickup and grabbed a bottle jack with the idea of using it to pry the bars apart. When I started to place the jack, the heifer finally turned her head and backed out. She shook her newly freed head a few times, then ambled out of the feedlot and headed for the pasture.
Ahh, success.

Though we all have daily and seasonal routines, those of us engaged in production agriculture know that every day, every evolution, brings some twist or turn, some departure from the norm. Our plans are always tentative plans, subject to change at a moment’s notice. We take it as a matter of course, and though sudden changes can be irritating and can mean extra and unanticipated work, it’s all part of the deal.