The day started out in the realm of the common and mundane. I got out of the house 20 minutes later than I had planned, fed the bottle calf, filled the horses’ water trough, gathered eggs, turned the chickens out and grained the yearling bulls. I fired up the old tractor, loaded a couple bales on the flatbed and headed up the road to kick it off to a group of cows. As I pulled through the gate, as is the norm, all 200 of the old girls trotted up to greet their meal on wheels, pushing and jostling for a spot at the table like a mob of twenty-somethings at the stage of a Taylor Swift concert.

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Freelance Writer
Paul Marchant is a rancher and freelance writer in southern Idaho. Follow Paul Marchant on X (@pm...

I cut the strings on the bales and walked alongside the old truck as we crept down through the field in granny gear. As I flaked hay off the bed of the truck and the throng of ravenous cows around me dissipated as they stopped to eat the hay at their feet, I peered around the truck and spotted something terribly amiss at the far west end of the field. Now, I’m not a trained veterinarian, but I consider myself an experienced husbandman of at least average competence. As such, my keen senses communicated to my brain that the buzzards sitting atop the form of an apparently lifeless cow, whose legs pointed skyward, was a bad sign, if not an omen.

I finished offloading the groceries and made my way down to the scene of the crime. I doubted that the buzzards were the cause of the big red cow’s death, but I cussed them, nonetheless. Just the day before, the lifeless form was a perfectly robust, healthy cow with a respectable 3-week-old bull calf at her side. It’s bad enough when unfortunate events occur, but it seems worse when the reason isn’t apparent. We were planning a branding in two days, so I figured I’d grab the calf then, rather than spending an hour right then catching a horse and roping the calf. I figured he’d be OK until then. Just what I wanted: another bottle calf to train.

On my way out of the field, I spotted a droopy-eared, snotty-nosed calf that required some doctoring. I didn’t have my medicine kit in the truck, but the calf wasn’t at his best, so I easily roped him and tied him to the fence. And, of course, I didn’t stop to shut the gate on my way out because, you know, I’d be right back in 10 minutes.

As it turned out, nine minutes would have been fine, but 10 was just a bit too long. As I rounded the corner on my return trip, I could see a string of a 100 cows merrily trotting up the road and into the brush, happily in search of the tiniest hint of green grass that was just starting to make an appearance in spite of the cold that had dominated the late-spring weather up to that point. I kicked off my second load of hay, doctored the patient, whom I hoped would survive the week, and zipped back to the shop to grab the dogs and the four-wheeler. Since most of the cows had abandoned their babies in their frenzied rush to freedom and search for green grass, with the help of the dogs, it was a pretty quick gather. Still, it took an hour or so, that I hadn’t planned, out of my day. I figured I’d get the tractor and haul old number 306 to the dead pile the next day. I was confident enough in my cowboy skills that I figured I’d be able to track her down. I didn’t think she’d wander too far.


Later that day, as I was finishing up with the evening chores, still mired in a murky swamp of self-pity, my phone rang. Minor anxious panic gripped my heart when I saw that the caller was my neighbor, Erin, from just up the road. It’s not that she’s not a wonderful neighbor, in fact quite the opposite, but with the way my day had been, and knowing the proximity of her neatly manicured yard to my heifer pasture, I was sure she wasn’t calling to offer me some of her daughter’s to-die-for cookies. Luckily, for me, her yard was heifer-free, and I breathed a silent sigh of relief when she gave me her request.

She wanted to know if I had a calf puller they could borrow. Theirs had somehow broken as they were trying to extract an elephant from an 800-pound heifer. Well, this was certainly good news, wasn’t it? I told her I’d be right up. It’s amazing how cheerful I can be when the train wreck is on somebody else’s tracks. And besides, my neighbors are constantly bailing me out of some calamity or debacle, quite often of my own making.

After 45 minutes, another set of broken chains, a slight amount of cussing and an equal amount of creativity, we were finally able to extricate a huge, albeit deceased, black calf from the hapless little red heifer. It was pretty rough on the poor bovine mother, and it was apparent she might require some nursing to get back on her feet.

With the date of the birth, it was obvious the heifer had been bred on the mountain the previous summer. I had a suspicion the sire of the calf was one of my black bulls, none of which were intended as calving ease sires. Though there was really no fault to be had, I felt a twinge of responsibility.

“How serendipitous,” I thought, as I shared my newly formed plan with my good neighbors.

“I’ve got a cow that’s the perfect match for this calf, and you can keep her as long as you’d like. It’s guaranteed to be an easy graft. I’ll drag her down here for you in the morning!”