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"Just Returnin' the Favor"



You know that I live on a ranch and each day during the winter, I have to feed a bunch of critters. The feed is made up of ground up grain and molasses which is processed into cubes. They are cylindrical about 1/2 inch in diameter and 2 inches long. They are put into burlap or plastic sacks that weigh 60 pounds. Each cow gets 2 pounds and I feed 16 sacks a day.



I get up before daylight and take my pickup up the hill to the supply barn. I load the 16 sacks onto a hand cart and wheel them to my pickup and load them on.

Dang, I’ve gone less than a quarter of a mile and lifted over half a ton, and I haven’t been out of the house for 10 minutes.



The pasture where the cows spend the winter is about 10 square miles in size and it is five miles from home. I usually average about 30 miles a day gettin’ around the pasture.

By this time the sun is beginning to come up and I can see, so I go to a high hill, where I can see most of the pasture and where the cows are located this morning. Most times they are scattered in small bunches all around the pasture.

I drive to a spot where I can gather a group to feed, it may be 15 or over a hundred.

I stop near the center of those I want to gather and honk the horn, I also get out and start calling to the cows. I do my best to sound as enticing as possible so that they will gather at my pickup for feed.



Now cows are not famous for hurrying, and it is a rule that the slowest and laziest cow will always be the one the farthest away. Some mosey, some amble, and some just plain ignore me. If the pickup is facing them they will not move.

They think I am still comin’ towards them and there is no use walkin’ when they don’t have to. If I get out and stand in the cold wind they think something is gonna happen and they might miss it, so they start movin’.

If I get cold and get back in the pickup to warm up, they stop and start eating again. It looks like there’s gonna be 60 head in this bunch.



Let’s see a double handful is about 2 pounds, a five gallon bucket holds about 30 pounds, and a sack will feed 30 head. Countin’ fingers and toes, tells me I need 2 sacks. This is as big a bunch as I dare feed on foot. When I start pouring the cubes on the ground, it is like a feeding frenzy of sharks comin’ at me.

The ones in the front stop and start eating and the ones in the back start pushing, butting, climbing and running to get to the feed. One cow knocks another and she bounces into another and that one accidently hits me from behind. One day I will probably get knocked down and tromped into a grease spot.



If there is more than about 60 in a bunch, then I open the sacks and set them on the tail-gate of the pickup, start the pickup movin’ and jump out and run back and sit on the tail-gate and pour the feed out.

When it is all dumped, I run back up and jump in the pickup and stop it. Sounds more excitin’ than it is. There sure isn’t anything out here for the pickup to hit.



This gets a little more tedious, if there is snow on ground or if there is a blizzard. In fact it can get rather unpleasant, no it can get really nasty!

At times it is like drivin’ in a milk bottle, but the worse the day, the more important it becomes to make sure the cows get fed, as that will be all they get on a bad day.

If it is bad enough, then I dispense with the cubes and feed baled hay. I can haul 50 bales at a time and that will feed half of the herd.



Again I put the truck in low gear and climb up on the load of hay and scatter the appropriate number of bales for the cows and then jump down run after the pickup and jump in and drive to the next bunch.

If I make a mistake and drive into a snowdrift that is too deep, the pickup becomes stuck and I get to scoop snow until I can get movin’ again. Many times this involves moving a few yards, and gettin’ stuck again, and startin’ the process again.

Now maybe this sounds a bit trying, and after doing it for nearly 40 years, I guess maybe it is, but you know for some reason, there is one day a year when I kind of enjoy it, no matter what the weather is.



That is Christmas morning. I can’t explain it, I don’t mind that the cows take their time or the weather is plumb rotten.

We keep the cows until they are 10 years old, and in that time I come to recognize personalities in many of them.

There is the cows that will eat out of my hand, that long ol tongue snakes out and take a cube, and then she crowds up for more, until I got to bat her on the nose to get her to leave me alone.

Then there is the one that likes her back scratched, the one that tries to catch the cubes coming out of the sack instead of eating in on the ground.

One who wants the last bit poured out and will run over all the feed on the ground to get the last bite, and the one who fights to keep the rest from getting any to eat until it is all gone and she doesn’t get any herself.

Then the are the twins, that was raised by two different mothers, but now they are never more than 50 yards apart. These critters are more human than most people think. Most days their idiosyncrasies are just aggravating to me, but on this day, I get a kick out of them.

I see them as individuals, some are real characters and some are just lumps. Kinda like people, I reckon.



I can’t say that I enjoy scoopin’ snow, or loadin ’and unloadin’ snow-covered hay bales and gettin ’soaking wet on the outside and sweat-soaked on the inside, but on Christmas morning, it ain’t quite as bad.

I wouldn’t call me a religious man.
I kinda live by the Cowboy’s Prayer.

"Oh, Lord, I’ve never lived where churches grow..."
The rest of it is on my home page if you haven’t seen it.

But if you think on it a little, it wasn’t people that gave up their shelter and place to eat, so that the Baby Jesus would have a place to be born on Christmas eve.

It was cows. Them cows stood outside the stable, and the baby was laid in their manger on their hay.

You suppose that has something to do with why I don’t mind feedin’ them cows on Christmas?

Maybe in my own small way,

"I’m returnin’ the favor."




2003
Chip Harding


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7/31/07