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Memories on the Hoof


C J Mouser

Two years ago, almost to this date, Joe Nickerson from the dairy down the road presented me with a scrawny, scoury, little Holstein bull calf. It was only a couple of days old, small enough that Joe could carry him easily in his arms.

"You want this thing?"

I had been pestering him to sell me a calf, I can only speculate that he was going to give me a trial run at it, before I made any financial investments into cow raising. I looked into the big brown eyes of the sickly calf, noted the knobby knees, and the sweet roundness of his little nose, and my maternal instincts kicked into overdrive.

"Well, suuuure I do." I'm quite certain I had an idiotic grin on my face because my cheeks hurt. "How much do you want for him?"

"Nuthin'. You want him, you can have him. I don't expect him to make it, but maybe with some effort he might come around."

This was just getting better and better. A gift. I never for once doubted that he would make it. I just wouldn't allow him not to make it. Simple as that.

My husband Fred took one look at him when he got home that afternoon and laughed.

"What are you going to do with THAT?"

"I'm going to raise him and then when he's big enough, we'll butcher him and eat him." I said matter of factly. It was easy to say that, when I knew that the event wouldn't happen for a year or more down the road.

He looked at me with that 'I know you better than that' way he has, and said.... "Uh huh. Okay."

Yesterday afternoon Ed Perry, the butcher, came to collect this thousand pound beast that we had long ago, somewhat affectionately, named Rocky, to take him to be prepared for the table. He loaded up smoothly with no incident, and I watched Mr. Perry drive away with Rocky standing forlornly in the trailer he pulled behind his truck. Truth be told, it was not an easy thing to do, and Fred was almost right, but I knew we were doing the right thing. I saw Rocky take one last gander at the home where he'd grown up, and he was gone. I leaned against the gate trying not to think of anything in particular, and that's when the memories started flooding back. Dang it.

If I said I didn't get a little bit emotional I would be a liar of the worst sort. Not weepy or anything quite like that. More like nostalgic. After all, he'd been around for almost two years.

From the minute we put him on the bottle, he thrived. Within a week the scours were gone, and he had officially adopted anyone who carried his bottle as his mama. I could almost stand there and watch him grow. He was a cute little thing. Cute as he was, he did have his issues. Such as his penchant for rewarding you with a thin stream of yucky poop down your leg after feeding if you didn't move fast enough. The disgusting way he had of running his tongue up into his nose. I don't know what kind of weird cow logic there is behind this behavior. He taught me that my right index finger, that I had always used for mundane, routine, unimportant activities, was in reality a bovine pacifier. Imagine that. The kids got the biggest kick out of how he would stand there contentedly sucking on my right index finger, expecting something to come out of it eventually I suspect. Naturally all the blood would rush to the end of my finger when I finally got it loose.

"Mama, you got a cow hickey!"

I remembered a year or so ago when Dr. Gary Shiver came out to see to an injured boar, and I asked him what it would take to castrate Rocky. Fred had been telling me that if we kept him around for any length of time we needed to have it done, or he would be pushing down fences all over the property before it was over.

"Nothing but a sharp blade and a couple of extra hands to hold him down," the good doctor replied.

So, Fred and I decided to have him do it before Rocky got too big and too ornery.

Dr. Shiver put Fred to work, helping to get Rocky to the ground and I was instructed to hold him down. I was nervous as a long tailed cat in a room full  of rockers, not having much experience with bulls, even young ones, so the minute Rocky hit the ground on his side I tackled him, reminiscent of the crocodile hunter tackling a twelve foot alligator. I threw myself full body onto his neck and he rolled one eye up at me in protest.

"Like this?!" I asked the doctor.

"Well I'm not sure you need to do all that, he's only a few hundred pounds. Maybe just put your knee on his neck?" He and Fred exchanged a chuckle. Shut up.

There were some nice memories from back when he was a calf; I can still smell his sweet breath, kind of like a mixture of freshly mowed grass and ice cream. But, he grew and grew and his misdeeds grew right along with him. He was a royal pain in the neck. In the space of two days he destroyed the fence on the hen yard, a fence on the pig pasture, shorted out the electric fence and threatened me with bodily harm for calling him on these transgressions. When you went out in the pasture with him, it depended on which way the wind was blowing and which side of his rump his tail was hanging on, whether he would come up and rub against you affectionately or chase you down and stomp you to pieces. The last straw was broken when he ravaged a sow's nest, ran her away from her babies and stepped on a newborn piglet. Fred was fit to be tied.

"He just stepped on a hundred dollar bill! I don't care what you need to do or how you need to do it, get rid of him now."

It was time. Time to put up or shut up. I swallowed around the lump in my throat and made the call, and now he's gone. I'll admit it. I wouldn't have cared if that stupid animal lived here until he died of old age. I would have kept him around happily just as a lawnmower, but nature has a way of keeping us grounded. This steer was not meant to be a pet. He has gone to fulfill his destiny, and I have reconciled myself to that fact, and I have to admit that I can breathe easier knowing that he won't be jumping any more fences or trampling anymore prospective show pigs, and I am actually kind of looking forward to sampling the meat. I can envision cutting into a nice juicy steak and enjoying the reward of raising our own beef to feed the family, and I don't expect having any qualms about doing this.

As long as I don't focus on my right index finger when I do it.

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