Sue Bowman Rural Ramblings purple

Doubleheader — the word makes us think of enjoying back-to-back baseball games on a warm summer day. However, strictly speaking, that term could also be used to describe any two events that occur one right after the other in the same location.

We recently had a December doubleheader at Wunnerfitz Farm, although it was a far cry from summertime and part of these events wasn’t very enjoyable.

The events I’m speaking of both involved our beef herd and took place in the barnyard with a hefty coating of snow from our 10-inch snowfall the week before Christmas. Sub-freezing temperatures and mostly overcast conditions created a frigid day for the activities at hand.

Job one was a visit from the veterinarian for our annual herd check — a farm call to vaccinate and worm all our beef cattle, as well as pregnancy checks for the females. Just as most of us aren’t eager for doctors’ visits, our Herefords and Hereford crossbreds were less than elated when they realized what was on the agenda.

Part of their objections have to do with being run into a cattle chute where they’re confined while the vet works on them from the rear.

Most of our cattle have been through the chute in previous years. You’d think they’d know the drill by now — if they cooperate, they can be in and out of the chute in two or three minutes. But unfortunately, some probably retain the poking and probing as an unpleasant memory and are determined to forego these “festivities.”

I felt sorry for our veterinarian, who had already had a challenging day that made him apologetically arrive over an hour after his initially projected time. No one likes to be kept waiting, but most farmers like us have been the cause of an unexpected delay when an emergency has arisen at our own farms, so we can appreciate these circumstances.

We also realize that, when a veterinarian falls behind schedule, it has a domino effect on the farmers remaining on his day’s call list. Thus, we were hoping for a smooth-flowing herd check for his sake as well as ours.

It was not to be, however. The first few cattle were reasonably cooperative but then it seemed like the rest of the herd had huddled and jointly decided to abstain from participating in the herd check. They blocked each other and stood firm against all our best attempts to persuade them to march into the chute.

Each member of our “home team” had its own job. Dennis’ son Eric had the hardest job, walking among the cattle in the stable and trying to persuade them toward the chute, then slamming the chute’s door behind them after they entered.

Dennis’ brother Larry then encouraged each animal to the front of the chute using a board strategically placed in back of its hindquarters so the vet had good access to the animal. Dennis initially measured and applied the liquid wormer to their backs. I mostly served as secretary, recording the information from the veterinarian regarding each cow’s due date.

At the end of each examination, Larry opened the front of the chute, allowing the “victim” to enter the barnyard for some hay and access to the water trough with the other herdmates who had been processed previously.

The first half of the herd proceeded pretty much according to plan, but the remainder became increasingly balkier until we had five “conscientious objectors” left at the rear of the stable. Dennis joined Eric in the pen and the two of them used a gatelike metal frame to steer the cattle to the chute.

For their efforts, they were rewarded with a kick in the thigh (Eric) and being knocked to the stable’s mucky floor (Dennis).

Luring the recalcitrant cattle with a bucket of feed or handfuls of hay met with limited success.

In the end, what worked was “suckering” the cattle by opening the gate beside the chute so that it appeared they could leave the stable by a route other than the chute. Dennis and Eric would then get behind the advancing animal with their metal frame, I would use the decoy gate to channel the beefer closer toward the chute and, one by one, we finally met with success.

We felt bad that the vet and his helper, a fourth-year veterinary student, were made later still by our lengthy herd check, but eventually they were off to their next call. Meanwhile, we readied ourselves for round two of our double header: loading five recently weaned steers onto the cattle trailer of their buyer.

Dennis, Eric and I fretted about whether they would be as stubborn as their mothers had just been. It had already been a long afternoon. The buyer’s trailer backed in, the stable door was opened, and the five youngsters trotted on board effortlessly, like they were heading to summertime in the pasture.

All of us heaved a sigh of relief as the cattle trailer pulled away and our lengthy December doubleheader came to an end.

Sue Bowman is a freelance writer in southeastern Pennsylvania.

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