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Zan Thompson

Herd It Before, but Udderly Uncowed

May 31, 1987|Zan Thompson

The Thompson men have had a yearning for the open range and the sound of the thundering hoofs of cattle, despite overwhelming evidence against their success in this fast-disappearing line of endeavor.

My husband, Doug, father of our son, Timothy, bought five steers some years ago when we were living in an orange grove in Whittier. He kept them in a pasture he rented about a mile away. I never went there because I did not want to become acquainted with them for fear I would become attached to one or two of them--and they were destined to become someone's chateaubriand.

Doug assured me that they had the brain of a block of wood and the personality of a sea slug and there was no chance that I would want to take one of the darlings home. But I couldn't take the chance because there is something about those flat white faces and curly bangs that convinces me that they really are Robert Louis Stevenson's "friendly cow all red and white who gives us milk with all her might to eat with apple tart."

I know steers are neutered males and no milk is involved, but I wanted no congress with the fivesome.

First they got ringworm and when Doug came home each night, he would take off his gray flannel and put on jeans and go out and paint them with iodine. That displeased them and left Doug covered with iodine and looking like one of the bit players in "Ramona": tall and lean and coppery.

Then one of the dolts fell down on perfectly flat land and broke his neck and had to be destroyed and there went the profit in the Thompson herd. Doug said, "The Gills in the San Joaquin Valley had the biggest spread and the most cattle and never did they have a steer just fall down and break his neck."

He shook his head sadly and soon after, I stopped hearing about the four remaining steer. I can only assume Doug sold them or drove them to the San Joaquin Valley and turned them loose to roam with the thousands of Gill animals.

Now Tim and his friend Brad Bertling have ventured into the cattle business. They are perfectly qualified. Tim is a reading teacher working with non-reading adults, and Brad teaches multi-engine flying to students from all over the world who already have their pilot's licenses.

Wagon Master Brad and Trail Boss Tim bought 10 milk cows and their calves and then found that the seller did not deliver. So they bought an open-topped horse trailer and went to pick up their herd.

It took a long, exhausting day. One of them would crouch in the horse trailer and drop hay over the back, and when a cow wandered by to see what the buckaroos had brought, she bent her head to the hay and the other cattle baron lassoed her.

Then it took three of them to get her in the trailer--one to hold the rope taut, one to pull and one to push. I do not know who the third hand was. He was too cautious to give me his name.

Then they caught the corresponding calf and pushed it. After nine trips, they had just one twosome to go. They were tired, hot and dusty and, when they got the cow in the trailer behind the pickup, they didn't have enough energy left to catch the calf, who was fleet as a gazelle. So they agreed to take the cow home and go back the next day for the calf.

The next day, when they brought the calf back to their own pasture, the outraged and hungry calf was bawling for its mother. The cow, every maternal urge profaned, charged the pickup. She charged the doors and the sides, each time giving her head a terrible whack, which shredded what was left of her disposition and dented the pickup severely.

Brad was stuck in the truck for 20 minutes when he hit upon a plan. He climbed out of the window of the cab, over the roof and across the bed of the truck and vaulted into the horse trailer.

The cow now charged the back of the horse trailer; and Brad's plan to lower the ramp and encourage the calf down it was going up in splinters. The ramp was making creaking, cracking noises and Brad thought what an ignominious end it would be for a classy airplane driver, spread-eagled and impaled by an angry cow in a horse trailer. I mean, what do you tell people?

He gathered the gangly calf in his arms and dropped it over the ramp of the trailer. I am happy to report that the calf landed safely and it trotted huffily off with its mother, who probably just wanted to lie down with a cold cloth.

And that was the first day on the Bertling-Thompson spread. I don't think the Gills need to worry. Oh, my goodness. I hope Tim's herd doesn't get ringworm.

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