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Where's The Beef
When my brothers and I grew up in Florida we didn't have a lot of extra money
to waste. In fact, our dad would go to the dairy in Tampa to get each of the
older children a male calf every spring. The dairy gave them away to anyone
who would take one because they didn't have much use for male calves, which
is understandable. We children would raise them and later sell them to be butchered for beef when we had them at a good
weight. That was how we got money for our school clothes each fall.
We lived in the country - by that time some forty miles inland from Tampa. Dad would borrow
an old pickup truck from our neighbor and he and my two older brothers would make the trip each year to get our calves. I never got to
go and pick out my own calf like the boys; I could never understand that. Mom
would always tell me it was too dangerous since they literally had to chase the
calves down and herd them into the old pickup. Because of this situation I
would always get the ugliest, sickest looking, puniest calf available; my brothers would go out of their way to see to it.
These calves had to be fed with a bucket of formula with a nipple attached because they hadn't been weaned yet. We had to get up early enough each
morning to mix the formula, feed the calves, hose down the cement floor of the
barn and put out fresh hay across it. I have to tell you, shovelling up what
comes naturally to a young bull, spraying and putting down fresh hay is not the
most glamorous job a girl could want . I never minded the formula mixing and
feeding too much, but I hated when it was my turn to clean up the mess.
Occasionally the calves would have to be dipped in sheep dip. To those of you who don't know what this pleasant experience is like, I will try to explain. The
vat was a concrete pit that had a ramp at each end so the cattle could go down
one ramp, pass through the dip, then up the other ramp into the pasture. You
would fill the pit with sheep dip to a level that was equal to the neck of the calf.
Now, sometimes they were more than willing to escape the pit, other times you'd have to tie a noose to their neck and try to pull them out.
As usual, my calf was the runt of the bunch. The boys really went out of their way this year to find me a real
loser. My brothers would laugh at me because I always named my calf. That particular year the calf's name was Archie.
I took care of Archie as if he was my one and only child. I tried things with that
calf I never tried in the past but something was wrong... Archie would not grow.
My brothers' calves were getting big and their horns were coming out nicely.
Archie didn't have any signs of where his horns were supposed to be... not even
the little knot that comes up first before the horns break through the skin.
Occasionally Dad would come out to the barn and examine him. I believe he thought I wasn't feeding the calf correctly but he couldn't understand what was
going on either, and Archie soon became the talk of the town.
It seemed at least once a week there was another neighbor, old farmer, ex-rancher, you name it... who had come to look at the calf and give his
opinion of what Archie's problem was. The opinions ranged anywhere from not
having enough minerals in his formula to being born during a full moon. Yes,
that was being born during a full moon. It seemed a lot of the country folk
relied on the moon for everything they attempted. Anything from planting potatoes to buying new tractors, but nobody seemed to be able to help Archie.
That spring and summer was hot and dry; the calves had to be dipped because the insects were worse than usual. Big flies were tormenting, stinging and
driving the calves crazy. Dad said they'd have to be dipped in the sheep dip.
Dad would always mix the dip to make sure the water to dip ratio was as it was supposed to be. If he let one of us do it and we did it wrong the calves could be
hurt, not to mention one of us, considering what a mess it made.
We kids knew, in our heads, how to dip those calves but we just couldn't seem to do it without making a real production out of it. Why, we invited every other
kid in the neighborhood to come watch, I think we could have sold tickets if
we'd thought about it.
You see, though we lived in the country, we were the only kids in our area who raised their own calves. Most of that area was being farmed for different crops,
not cattle, so our calves were a novelty to the other children around. Now I
think back, we could have stood back and let them do it after we convinced
them how much fun it was going to be, much like Tom Sawyer's whitewashed fence.
Both my older brothers were sweet on the same girl that lived down the road. Her name was Eva and I'll never forget her solely because of the events that
took place that day. Both brothers were like a couple of peacocks, each one
trying to impress Eva in his own way.
"Eva, you stand back some, I wouldn't want you to get your pretty dress splashed as I run my calf down the ramp first." My brother Jerry told her.
Not to be outdone, my brother Ronnie told her to come stand by him where she would be really safe. It was disgusting to watch the display of attempted
manhood the boys put on for her that day.
As they were each one trying to keep her attention, I decided I'd seen enough and was going to run Archie down the ramp first. I had a little trouble getting
him in the right position to go down the ramp but he soon overcame his fear
and made the trip through the vat with little incident. He ran up the other side
and out the open gate into the pasture, just as he was supposed to.
"Ohh...ahh!" The silly kids all seemed to be saying in unison. It seemed to me this was more entertainment to those kids than a drive-in movie
- but now it was time for another calf to be dipped.
My brother Jerry was next and had even more trouble preparing his calf to take the plunge than I did with Archie. It took a little wrestling, a little under the
breath cursing, but eventually the frightened calf slid down one ramp then
awkwardly ran up the other.
"Did you see how I had to get behind the calf and forcefully push him down the ramp, Eva?" Jerry said to the shy young girl. What a man he thought he was at
Eva nodded her head yes and I must say she seemed impressed as she flashed Jerry a coquettish smile. This totally annoyed Ronnie, he couldn't be outdone
by a brother a full three years younger than he.
"I'm going to show you a little trick, Eva, because he caused himself a lot of unnecessary trouble with his calf. I've been doing this longer and I know more
about it than he does... watch this," he seemed to demand of the girl.
Ronnie swung a lasso over his head like a cowboy, let it fly toward the calf and
the noose actually went around his calf's neck. I was impressed; I don't know
about Eva. He stood and grinned like a possum eating briars because he pulled
it off as well as he did.
"Now, instead of getting behind the calf and pushing your guts out, all you have
to do is lead him through the dip with this rope. You might want to stand back a
little more, Eva." Ronnie crowed like a rooster.
My brother started tugging gently on the rope but the calf stood his ground; he wasn't going anywhere. Ronnie then cleared his throat a few times and pulled
the rope with a little more authority... nothing, the calf wasn't moving and
Ronnie would rather have swallowed glass than ask Jerry to help him pull his
calf down the ramp.
Jerry couldn't resist the temptation to try to impress Eva a little more by grabbing the rope from Ronnie and telling him he would pull if Ronnie would
push. Now the fun had started, it was like something from a Laurel and Hardy
"On the count of three you push hard and I'll pull the rope with all I've got." Jerry told Ronnie.
OH! The pleasure they were giving me that day. All the memories of everything they ever did bad to me were suddenly rushing through my mind as
I watched what happened next.
"One...two...three!" The boys counted together before they made their big
Ronnie's calf, for whatever reason, decided to lunge forward down the ramp at exactly that moment. Ronnie screamed as he grabbed the calf's tail for balance
and was pulled in the vat along with the calf. Jerry pulled the rope so hard he
fell on his butt when the calf leaped forward and was ran over by it as it ran up
the other side.
"OH... there is a god!" I marvelled as I watched them rolling around in the mud,
blaming each other for what had just happened. The funniest part of the story
was Eva leaving with another young boy because she thought Ronnie and Jerry
I could have said a lot of things to them that would have been justifiable...
but I didn't. Just having the privilege of being there at that moment was enough to
sustain me for life.
I actually thought for a time the boys were maturing a little because they started treating me better. Then I found out it was because they were afraid
when school started I would tell all their friends what had happened. I milked it
for as long as I could but had to give it up when I found out Eva would be the
one who told everyone about it.
The boys were devastated and didn't want to go to school until the story died down a little. In spite of my efforts to keep the story floating around,
eventually it got replaced by another story about another unsuspecting boob
that did something stupid. I have to tell you though, for a bit that summer and
fall I was riding high and enjoying every minute of it.
My brothers had no problems selling their bulls for meat on the hoof, but Archie
was around a long time because his growth was stunted. They seemed to get great pleasure from this until one day a man stopped
by and offered me forty dollars for Archie, a full ten dollars more than they each
received for theirs. It
I don't know if the man thought Archie was still a calf or if he knew he was stunted but I didn't ask any questions, I just took the money and ran. I had to
listen to a lesson on honesty from my mother over the sale but it was still a
sweet deal to me.
Though the incident I spoke of was many years ago I still have to smile to myself every time I see a calf in a pasture along a country road. I wouldn't have
thought it then but memories like those have become precious to me and I wouldn't trade them for any amount of money.
Both my older brothers have passed away but I know if they were here today we'd all have a laugh about what we years later named "the sheep dip
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