It starts with the simplest of requests, made as we drink coffee and eat breakfast. “Do you have time to help me vaccinate calves in the hayfield?” Well, of course I do.
The exercise is simple. Nothing to it, really. We approach the agreeable new mama in a friendly manner and explain our task. We quietly lay the calf on its side and vaccinate it and give it an ear tag while the mother cow patiently chews her cud and looks on pleasantly, thankful that we are so diligent about the health of her calf.
It has to be a comical sight. It’s cold out, so we’re bundled up like Arctic explorers (or at least I am), hardly able to bend over due to the spring load effect. We are armed to the teeth with ear tagger and notcher, vaccine gun holstered in my coat, and a lariat hanging from the left handlebar. Brad is driving standing on the left running board of the ATV, I’m perched precariously on the right side, sharing the back with Pearl and both pups as we whizz and bounce around the frozen hayfield looking for new calves. And then a snow squall blows in from who knows where.
The wind is biting and freezing our faces and hands, as we try to stealthily approach the mama cow without raising suspicion, but those cows know the sound of the ATV and what it means. A cow with a suspicious look might as well be plotting murder. We steal her calf, which promptly starts bawling and screeching, and all the threatening pounds of the annoyed mama comes barreling down on us with her head lowered and snot flying. Geez Louise. Well, at least now we can read her ear tag, and fish the correct tag out of the plastic bag. Gosh, I thought there were only 8 tags in here, not 800. Meanwhile, the dogs go tumbling off the four wheeler to hide, the vaccine gun gets stuck in my coat pocket, while the ear tag won’t go on the tagger because the plastic is stiff with cold and so are my fingers. Brad is hanging on to the roped calf and trying to talk down the mother cow, but his occasional choice words ruin the calming effect, while I’m trying to tell everyone, cow, calf, and pups, that “everything is going to be just fine.” Finally I get the tag on the tagger but the calf screeches again as Brad tags his ear, and mama cow starts bellowing, which scares the calf even more. The calf jumps and prances on the end of the rope and the ear tagger goes flying, and the mama races off ten or so paces, just enough time for Brad to flip the calf on its side and sit on it. I finally get the vaccine gun out of my coat and hand it to Brad as the cow comes barreling back over, raining snot, clumps of dirt and grass flinging up behind her. With a yell, Brad manages to simultaneously vaccinate the calf, release it, and jump behind the four wheeler, with agility that would put the best bull fighter to shame. With a parting snort, the cow gathers up her calf and moves off.
We rescue all our scattered items, load the pups back up from their various hiding places, and go on our merry little way.
Just like that. Nothing to it.