NOTHING SAYS SUMMER like the roar of the lawn mower, the spike in seasonally-adjusted gas prices and the most priceless air pollution I know, the smudge of a simmering steak on the barbecue.
The recent hike in the price of beef has got some people thinking about raising their own cows for meat. It’s part of a back-to-the-land movement that gives folks a sense of self-sufficiency. They like having a diet that is not the product of an industrial farming complex. Some people believe raising your own food is a way to cut down on the grocery bill. That is their first mistake. Considering the cost of feed, fencing and vet bills, raising cows is anything but cheap. I know everything there is to know about raising cattle. All of my practical knowledge and cattle-raising expertise can be summed up in one word — don’t. I had a herd of cattle when I was a kid. There were two of them.
Back then they were practically giving away the bull calves born at the Dungeness dairies. We had to feed the calves from a bucket with a big nipple on it. Frisky and Petunia were highly intelligent. They took about two minutes to figure out the bucket and start pulling for all they were worth. About that time, I was glad I wasn’t a real mommy cow. It looked painful.
After a bucket of warm milk there was time to join in the calf games the herd loved to play like “tag” or “butting heads.” Before long, the calves had outgrown their formula. But no matter how big the calves got, they never outgrew their love of tag or butting heads. That could be painful once their horns started sprouting. You had to be careful about getting caught out in the pasture. The herd would come charging at you, wanting to play, forgetting they weighed 500 pounds.
Once the calves got so big, it was time to break them into riding stock. I would have preferred a horse, but that’s life on the range. You have to make do with what you got. I thought there was always a place for some fancy riding cows at the rodeo. Breaking in a riding cow is not for everyone. You have to outsmart them first. We’d bait them in with the grain bucket.
Dodging the flashing horns, I’d sneak a halter and a lead rope on, then wait for the herd to lie down and go to sleep. Then it was just a matter of sneaking up and slowly easing into the saddle, except there was no saddle. That made riding a painful experience. Frisky and Petunia were pot-bellied and razor backed. Sitting on top of either one of them was like riding a rail on top of a 50-gallon drum.
I remember my last ride on Frisky. He was dozing in the shade of an alder thicket. I grabbed the end of the lead rope and slowly slipped onto his back. Frisky was feeling his oats that day. He shot to his feet like a big hairy rocket I stayed on for maybe 8 seconds without getting gored or stomped before he brushed me off in a patch of wild roses.
We were rodeo bound when tragedy struck. One day the cows were gone. Dad said he took Frisky and Petunia camping. There was an accident. Dad saved some of the meat, although how you could eat a barnyard buddy like that was beyond me. That was the end of my rodeo career.