Monday, January 18, 2010

The Unkindest Cut of All

This post is rated D,S and V for suggestive dialogue, sex and violence. If none of those offend or bother you, read on.

I write frequently as a freelancer for a local Ag Magazine, Ozarks Farm & Neighbor and as a reader also my favorite column is by Jerry Crownover. Think Baxter Black but not as poetic. I got to meet Jerry at a writer's dinner late last year. I hope this is the kind of story he would write.

We begin ...

We have two Holstein calves that I call freezer beef; actually we sometimes call the calves Dumb and Dumber but they will end up in our freezer someday.

It is common practice to take male cows and render them male-less early in their short happy lives. We have always chosen the banding method. Simply put, you place a fat green rubber band around the male-bag-thing (OK scrotum) and after a few days the bag dries up and falls off. It only hurts the calf for a little while and since you don't cut them; there is no bleeding, and little chance of infection. We've been doing this on our male cows and sheep for years and it almost always works.

Earlier this year my wife and I banded Dumb and Dumber. I usually restrain the small calf and my wife finagles the rubber band around ... well you know where.

Fast forward to this past week.

My son-in-law the Montana cattle rancher was visiting with his wife - my eldest daughter and helping with chores and working with our horses (another story for a future post) and we both noticed Dumb was behaving rather affectionately toward my wife's old gelding horse. I won't provide details other than to say it looked unusual.

Dumb is rather friendly to people and can easily be touched. Caleb walked up behind him and reached between his legs to feel and lo and behold he still had a - caution sex word follows - testicle. He did not have a bag for it, it was just under the skin in the general area where those things reside normally.

Caleb asked if I wanted him to "cut" him - cut being the euphemism for - sex word again - castration. You get your dog "fixed" or "neutered" by a citi-fied vet but in the country people just say they "cut him".

For various reasons, you do not need to keep a bull around, even if he is only half a bull and a friendly one at that.

Caleb lassoed him, then bull-dogged him around the head to get him to flop to the ground at which point I jumped in to hold the rope on this 500 pound or so "half-bull" while Caleb did his best rodeo stuff to tie up his legs before he could do any damage to himself or either of us.

Prior to this Caleb had prepped his tools which mostly consisted of a very sharp kitchen knife (more on this later) and some iodine to pre and post treat the wound that was about to ensue.

My job was to continue holding down the big boy while Caleb proceeded to remove the remaining male part. Let's just say I'm sure it didn't feel all that great for the cow and it was all I could do to hold the rope and keep him on the ground. My daughter stepped in to help at one point. She got right in there with Caleb and held something while Caleb did the final cutting. You can't live on a cattle ranch in Montana (or anywhere for that matter) and be squeemish about these things.

After an incision, removal of one male organ part, some clamping, some iodine and a powder called Blood Stop, we let him go. He did not get up immediately and when he did, he was not too peppy. We watched him for awhile to make sure the bleeding had stopped.

The knife has returned to our kitchen although I'm not sure it will ever be used for anything involving food again.

Post-script: The morning after the procedure my wife noticed Dumb was laying down in the way cows don't typically lay down. I donned my muck boots and traipsed out to check on him fearing the worst - that he had started bleeding and died overnight. But as I approached the boy - now officially 100% steer, he got up and began walking. I guess he was still sore.

Post-post-script: Lest anyone think this qualified as cruelty to animals I'd like to point out that our steers get plenty of food and water, sunlight and are free to roam most of our forty acres until the day they end up in our freezer. Most beef is produced or at least finished in large confinement operations.

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