A Morning Adventure
Darlene Aldridge, DVM
A Morning Adventure (Subtitle: How to Determine the Sex of a Newborn Calf)
We all know the experience. It’s a new day and you venture into the pasture and see a newborn calf lying in the grass as mama stands above it licking her new arrival. Once you have marveled at the beautiful color (the prettiest one yet!) what is the next thing that comes to mind? One thing only – what sex is it?
At Star Creek Ranch we have an unwritten but steadfast rule – determine the sex within minutes of seeing the new calf. We celebrate all the new babies. We just want to know what we are celebrating. Now here is my story about a typical method of determining the baby’s sex.
First, you must meet the characters of my story:
The employees of Star Creek Ranch:
- Armando – Number One Vaquero at Star Creek Ranch. Knows the name, sex, sire and dam of every animal on the ranch.
- Terry – Number One Vaquero at Star Creek Ranch when Armando gives him that honor for the day. Willing to do anything asked of him and is always cheerful. Has seven kids! Tiffany, Tyler, Bradley, Trevor, Tara, Truitt and Myra.
The dogs of Star Creek Ranch:
- Zachary – Overgrown Weimaraner adolescent with a loving heart and an exuberant nature. His DNA makeup requires that he always has something in his mouth to chew on, commonly a turtle.*
Switch – Number One Cow Dog at Star Creek Ranch. Catahoula. Absolutely and completely devoted to me.*
Sara Dog – Part Dachshund, part Circus Dog. She runs. She jumps. She barks. She’s here. She’s there. Just where did that dog go?*
- Rainy – Black Labrador. Heart of gold and loves kids more than life itself. Relatively quiet except when she needs to meet the school bus, then she can leap tall buildings.*
- Chain Gang – Came to SCR as a stray with a chain completely embedded in his neck. Had been severely abused. Now has learned to trust completely and is a friend beyond compare. He loves the calves on the ranch and enjoys giving them kisses.
- Lost – White and blue tri-colored dog with a congenital deafness. Imagines she is a cow dog and gives vigorous chase. Has learned to obey sign language if she will look at you.*
- Cheddar (aka Cheddar Cheese) – Yellow bobtail dog that came to SCR as a starving stray living on June bugs. Eats like she will never see another meal and now looks like she has never missed one!*
- Drake, Duke, Zero – Three Golden Retrievers. Each dog has one name but since I can’t tell them apart when I yell at them to get out of the way I have to shout all three names. They are interchangeable. Terry’s and Armando’s dogs.
*These dogs are all Ranger Riders. They have the privilege of riding in the Polaris Ranger with me, sometimes all at one time.
At the start of the work day, Armando and Terry make the usual trip to Creekside, our calving pasture, in their Ranger. Six cows currently reside there, five with new babies at side and a heifer in waiting.
Drake, Duke, Zero are roaming freely in their general vicinity looking for a water trough to jump in, hay to pee on and calf poop to eat. Armando and Terry spot the heifer, nicknamed Kat, at the back of the pasture with a bundle lying at her feet and head that way. I get a radio call “We’ve got a new baby” Terry announces. I’m instantly out the door and in my Ranger on my way to Creekside. A new baby is always an exciting event at SCR! On my way I see Truitt and Myra playing outside and invite them to come see the new baby. They climb into the upper seat of the Ranger eager for the adventure. Switch, Cheddar and Rainy are also in the Ranger with me. Zachary is chasing Lost beside the Ranger. Sara Dog is chasing both of them and barking at the top of her voice.
As Terry and Armando arrive to check out the new calf, Armando, who is driving offers to stay in the Ranger while he prompts Terry “My friend, the cow is gentle. You can check the baby.” Since Terry knows Armando would never lead him astray, he quickly jumps out of the Ranger and calmly walks up to the calf to pull the tail up for a quick look.
Kat suddenly realizes that the precious bundle at her feet needs immediate protection from this huge predator. Instantly she lunges forward at Terry who just manages to grab her horns to keep from getting run smack dab over. Armando yells encouragement from the relative safety of the Ranger. As Terry maneuvers backwards while protecting himself, he fails to see Drake, Duke, Zero that has just come up behind him to study something interesting on the ground. Terry’s legs come in contact with Drake, Duke, Zero and stop but his upper torso continues to be propelled backward by Kat and he falls to the ground, or rather on top of Drake, Duke Zero who immediately let out an ear splitting howl of surprise and indignation.
The dog cry brings out mothering instincts in Kat that date back to the dawn of time. She draws a deep breath of hot Texas air in her lungs and lets out a bellow along with snot from her nose and slobber from her mouth. Terry is now on his back with his feet flailing uselessly in the vicinity of Kat’s front legs while he continues to hold her off to some slight degree with each hand clamped like a vise grip on each horn. He continues to be propelled along the ground with Drake, Duke, Zero trying desperately to detach from the melee. Armando would help but he is laughing too hard and also must protect the Ranger by keeping it out of reach of the mad cow!
Just in time I arrive on the scene in my Ranger with full enforcements – Myra and Truitt in the upper seat of the Ranger and seven more dogs. Switch senses a good fight and bails out to immediately attack Kat. She begins chewing on the Kat’s horns and Terry’s hands at the same time. Zachary begins surveying the scene for a rock or big stick to chew. Chain goes to the calf to introduce himself. Myra starts crying “Miss Darlene, Miss Darlene, help my Daddy!” Sara Dog runs around in circles at full speed barking encouragement to all involved. Cheddar and Rainy can see all they want to see from the front seat of the Ranger and refuse to leave it.
The calf readily accepts Chain’s tender administrations but when Lost joins him and starts barking in its face, the calf jumps to its feet with a loud cry of terror. This temporarily attracts Kat’s attention who turns to kill a dog or two allowing Terry time to scramble to his feet and hustle to the Ranger that Armando has thoughtfully kept nearby.
Other cows in the calving pasture join the scene at a run after hearing the baby cry. Dogs scatter. Myra and Truitt are staring wide eyed from the safety of the upper Ranger seat and continue to cry “Help my Daddy, Help my Daddy, Help my Daddy.” Rainy climbs up to the top seat to comfort them with wet Lab kisses. Sara Dog says “Bark, bark, bark, bark, bark, bark, bark, bark, bark, bark ….” Well, you get the idea – she doesn’t stop.
Lost begins to chase calves abandoned by the other mama cows. Drake, Duke, Zero go back and get in the water trough. Cheddar is grateful that she has the Ranger seat and me all to herself and doesn’t move a muscle. Zachary has just found a turtle and propels himself into the Ranger from ten feet away to show it to me.
Armando can’t stop laughing although he wants to be sure Terry isn’t hurt. “My friend, you ride her like a motorcycle” he offers. Terry’s breathing is somewhat like a freight train. He suddenly gets a strange look on his face and reaches behind him and to find something stuck to his backside – the interesting object Drake, Duke, Zero had discovered on the ground – fresh placenta. He pulls the nasty, messy stuff off his pants and transfers it to Armando for inspection. Have you ever seen a “placenta” fight?
Soon the cows have gathered their calves and order is somewhat restored in Creekside. Kat has moved her baby posthaste to the other side of the pasture. We retreat in the Rangers with the dogs in tow.
I drive up beside Armando and Terry. “Terry, what do we have, a heifer or a bull?” The cheerful Number One Vaquero of the day casts a look at me that begins to corrode the outside of the Ranger and makes Cheddar cry and hide her head under my arm.