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A longhorn adventure: doubling the herd - from one calf to two - didn't double their trouble: it quadrupled it!

Doubling the herd - from one calf to two - didn't double their trouble: it quadrupled it!

My wife and I were both raised in the city. The goal for many years was to move to our own piece of land. We found a two-acre place in the Colorado Rocky Mountains about 35 miles outside of Denver. With our mail order business we only needed to be in the city once in a while and it worked out quite well. After about three years the goal expanded and we wanted more land. The idea of raising some animals without the steroids and antibiotics was very appealing.

Buffalo ain't for beginners

There was a newspaper article about the increasing market for buffalo. The National Western Stock Show was coming up in Denver in January and we decided it would be a good opportunity to meet some buffalo ranchers. It gave us time to read and do some much needed learning on the subject. The more we read the more romantic the idea became to "ranch buffalo". They were exotic, in demand, challenging, rugged and could thrive in the mountain areas we wanted to relocate to.

Later we found that starting with buffalo would be similar to a 16-year-old trying to learn to drive in a Gran Prix race car.

The National Western Stock Show came in January. Off we went to meet buffalo ranchers. The buffalo judging was held in the back stock pens. Later we learned this was for safety's sake.

While roaming the back pens we came across the Scotch Highland cattle show. These shaggy musk-ox like animals caught our attention. One of the exhibitors talked with my wife and explained why they were so taken with the Scotch Highland breed. The more we compared the Highland to the buffalo the more we leaned toward the shaggy Scotch Highland cattle. As one buffalo rancher told us, "buffalo ain't for no beginners". One of the Highland people said compared to buffalo the Scotch Highland were like "cattle with training wheels". They produced very lean meat, thrived in rugged areas, were in demand and were very docile.

The Scotch Highland

We contacted many Highland breeders in the area to get more information. One brisk March morning a rancher called us and said he had a newborn Highland calf that he was having to bottle raise. He said it would be a good starter and made us a deal we couldn't refuse. We plunged into the ranching business on our two acre spread. We arranged to pick up our little "herd" when she was two weeks old.

Our daughter named the calf Molly Spring Storm. This being our first calf I had no idea how small she would be at two weeks. Our fence was enough for our daughter's pony but the calf could wander right under it without it even touching her back. We set a small space in the garage, enclosed by bales of hay for the calf, until it warmed up and I could restring the fence.

Gaining confidence in abilities

It was amazing how quickly the little calf worked into our lives, schedule, and hearts. During the following six months we gained confidence in our abilities and a great deal of love for our little furry charge. Molly loved the attention we gave her and followed us around the corral asking for more. The pony and Molly became fast friends. Molly would raise a ruckus when we took the pony out and she would gladly have gone for walks with us. We halter trained her and probably would have taken her for walks.

In our exploring and learning about cattle we met a rancher who raises Texas Longhorns. He and his wife raise the Longhorns as our goal was, without any hormones/steroids and antibiotics. We tried some of the meat and liked it so much that we started marketing some for him. In the course of talking with him we came across the opportunity to trade some of our mail order product for a seven-month-old purebred Texas Longhorn calf.

The herd doubles

Since we were doubling the size of our herd I increased the size of our corral. Prancer (the pony) and Molly loved the extra room and the new fencing held them in well. The day after Thanksgiving we went to pick up our new calf which my daughter had named Pretzel. She weighed about 300 pounds and her horns were already about 8" long each. When we picked her up I could tell that she was bigger than me. It took two of us to wrestle her into the truck so I knew that she was also stronger than me.

I had built a "corral" on the back of my pickup truck made out of used pallets. We drove the 70 miles to Bennett, Colorado to pick her up. Before we got her securely tied in the truck "corral" she leaped out and was back in her corral. The second time we got her in the truck we built a roof and tailgate out of pallets so she was completely enclosed. Pretzel made the 70 mile trip with no problem. It was about 3:30 p.m. when we got her home.

Most of our neighbors were aware that we already had one calf. No one objected, but we could tell that the neighbors across the street had been slow to warm to the idea to say the least. Since the covenants in the area were "iffy" regarding the first calf we decided to bring the second calf home as inconspicuously as possible.

Sometimes we go months without seeing our neighbors. It was a nice day and several of our neighbors were out walking. One neighbor followed the truck down the shortcut with a great view of our new charge. So much for inconspicuous entry!

When we got home we situated the truck by the driveway so we could get Pretzel back on firm ground. She came off of the truck kicking and running at full speed. I was quickly learning the difference between our bottle reared calf and a range reared calf. I had a lead rope on her and I held on until I could wrap it around a tree and stop her. We got her calmed down and moved Pretzel up into the new corral. I tied the lead rope to a tree to get her settled down. That lasted almost two seconds before she pulled the rope loose. As Carolyn said, I did not earn my scout on that knot. The new fence seemed to be holding her in pretty well (about 30 seconds!) until she bounded right through it and headed down the driveway. I grabbed my lariat (made out of clothesline rope - we spare no expense and only go for the best) and chased after her. Carolyn jumped into our trusty Subaru and followed Pretzel and me down the road on our impromptu roundup.

Bigger, stronger - and smarter

The calf loped down the road for quite a while and then decided her old home could be reached sooner if she headed directly into Arapaho National Forest. I was following right behind and found that a Longhorn calf lope equals a full human gallop. I had already learned that the little Longhorn was bigger and stronger than me. Now I had the opportunity to learn that she was also smarter than me. After all, she was leading and I was following.

I got to see parts of the forest that I never knew existed. Finally I got the calf turned around and headed back towards the road. When she saw the road she went the wrong way for her new home but the right way for her old home. With the help of the Subaru and my clothesline lariat, we got her turned around and headed back to our two acre ranch. The neighbors across the street had just finished fencing in their four acres so I ran ahead and got their gate open and Pretzel ambled in. At least we had her in a confined space. I chased her around the inside perimeter of the fence and saw one place that we might be able to comer her. I spent the next hour trying to get her back to that place but the calf knew what I was up to. She avoided that corner like the plague.

It was getting very dark, so I went up to the neighbor's door to tell him he had a visitor. I mentioned that our calf was loose inside his fence. I hoped he would assume it was Molly (the Scotch Highland). I asked if I could leave her until the morning. Mark assumed it was Molly and as dark as it was it was hard to tell. I figured Mark had enough on his mind so I wouldn't bother him with details about this being a second calf. At least our little Longhorn was safe for the night, or so I thought.

The midnight chase

I had run many miles and had my work cut out for me getting hold of this little critter in the morning. We went to bed about 9 p.m. At 11 p.m. we got a phone call saying that the calls lead rope was wedged between two rocks and she was bawling and fighting it with all her might right below their bedroom window. I raced over in hopes of keeping her from hurting herself. I was thankful I wouldn't have to chase her down in the morning... or so I thought!

The calf was on the side of a very steep hill bawling and pulling against the rope for all she was worth. I loosened the rope and dove for the nearest tree that could hold her. I worked her from tree to tree up to the neighbor's driveway. We only destroyed one section of their white picket fence in the process. By this time Mark was asking questions about the calf and saying that "Molly sure looked different". We got her moved down most of the driveway when the little Longhorn fell over and just refused to get up.

The stress of the day had been too great for her and she wasn't about to go another inch. Carolyn had come over to help and the three of us tried to get this silly calf to stand up. Mark's wife, Becky, was raised around cattle and Mark asked her if there were any tricks to get a calf on its feet. Becky came out with a less than charitable look on her face. I don't really understand why she was perturbed. At midnight there isn't anything good on tv and this seemed much more interesting than just sleeping.

Why Becky became a teacher

In passing, Becky mentioned that she hated cows and had become a teacher so she would never have to see one again.

While Mark and I lifted the calf by her ears, Becky and Caroline pulled at the tail and we got Pretzel on her feet and out of their gate at about midnight.

Pretzel promptly fell down right in the middle of the road and refused to go again. It was a cool clear night and we didn't expect any traffic so we just talked to the calf and petted her. We got her calmed as much as possible. After about 20 minutes the conversation with our new calf started to drag. Neither Caroline nor I speak "cow" and Pretzel was only fluent in Longhorn. The distance to the corral was only a couple of hundred yards but with a 300 pound calf that refused to stand up it might as well have been a couple of miles. We had talked as much as we could to this little lump so we decided to bring in an interpreter.

Molly is bilingual

Molly (our Scotch Highland calf) is bilingual and speaks both English and cow. I woke Molly up and brought her down to translate for us. Pretzel perked right up. She and Molly chatted for a little while and with Carolyn leading Molly, and me holding on to Pretzel's rope for dear life, we made it into the corral by 1:00 a.m.

Now that our herd was finally back in the corral I decided that I would earn my scout merit badge and tie this knot securely. The veterinarian was coming that morning to check out the new member of the herd. We run one head of pony, two head of calf, three head of dog, one head of kitty, and one head of bunny. Quite a herd for a city couple on two acres. At about 1:30 a.m. we got back to bed.

I woke up a little before 6:00 a.m. and looked out the window to see if the little Longhorn was all right. It was just daybreak and I couldn't see her but I heard a quiet little moo so I knew that she was still tied securely to the tree.

"I'll be going now"

Less than five minutes later the phone rang and our other neighbor called and said that he had a red cow in his front yard. I figured the quiet little moo I had heard minutes before must have meant "I'll be going now" in Longhorn. I pulled on some clothes, grabbed my trusty clothesline lariat and went running through the forest again. The neighbor pointed which way she went and our second chase was on. That little critter decided she was going back home the most direct route and headed through the dense pine forest. I was able to follow her for about 10 minutes before totally losing sight of her.

I made my way back to the road just in time to see my wife in the car. Carolyn was driving the roads looking for me and the calf. I went back into the forest to track the fugitive. I had learned about tracking from watching western movies. It couldn't be that hard. In Butch Cassidy & The Sundance Kid I had seen them track over solid rock at night. I had a nice soft forest floor to work with. Fortunately Carolyn spotted the calf right away and honked for me. I ran back up the hill and spotted Pretzel just as she headed back into the forest. Carolyn drove the car up to head her off. I was bringing up the rear again and suddenly understood the old saying, the view only changes for the lead sled dog. Pretzel came out of the forest just in front of a neighbor's house that raises Rottweiler dogs. They also have three horses. I could hear someone talking to Pretzel so I called and asked Trish if her dogs were out yet. The dogs weren't out yet so Carolyn and I went up.

Pretzel was glad to have animal company even if they were horses. The horses were very curious and wary about the little visitor. Trish's husband came down to see what was going on. John was dressed in his bathrobe and had a cast on his hand. He had just had carpal tunnel surgery the day before.

The three of us worked Pretzel back against a fence. She turned just enough so that John could reach down with his good hand and catch the rope. I grabbed the rope from John and wrapped it around a tree. Then I got my trusty lariat around her neck. Since we had such a hard time moving Pretzel a few hundred yards the night before I decided to go get our other calf.

Molly wasn't thrilled with the couple of mile walk. After all, she had a short night also. Molly understood the problem when I explained it to her and we wandered up to retrieve the rest of our herd.

Moving the herd

When we got there Molly figured it was time to rest, graze, get petted and visit, not just head right home. Pretzel evidently had visited enough and was ready to go. For the next 1-1/2 hours we moved our herd at their stop and go pace down the road. We managed to see about 3/4 of our neighbors along the way. So much for our quiet inconspicuous retreat home. We finally got the herd back to our corral. This time I put a double rope on Pretzel.

Pretzel settled right in and follows Molly everywhere now. I Longhorn-proofed the fence. With all the traveling the little Longhorn has done with her halter on she was halter trained. She has gentled down and comes over to us for treats and attention.

That summer we sent them to Summer Camp at the Flying J Ranch to learn to graze.

Looking back:

In Iowa county, in southwestern Wisconsin, land that sold for $50 to $75 an acre seven or eight years ago is now selling for up to $500 an acre. These are wooded hillsides with rocky outcroppings...and that bewilders farmers who have always considered the flat, rich bottomlands their most valuable property.

There's a reason, according to Prof. Phil Lewis, director of the Environmental Awareness Center at the University of Wisconsin.

"When you think that all our natural sense receptors have evolved in the natural scene, you can understand why people cannot survive as healthy individuals in a city environment." Their natural instincts are telling them the type of land to buy, he says.

"They're paying a premium for rocky, stony, hilly land, preferably with water and certainly with privacy. In so doing, they're telling themselves - and the rest of us - what we really need."

Prof. Lewis was an associate professor of landscape architecture at the University of Illinois when he did a study on the full state in 1961. "I wanted to call it an |environmental design program,"' he recalls, "but they said, |Who knows what environment is?"'

That was only 12 years ago.
COPYRIGHT 1993 Countryside Publications Ltd.
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Article Details
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Author:Levinson, Glenn
Publication:Countryside & Small Stock Journal
Date:Sep 1, 1993
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