Just Chute Me
Notes on the fine art of loading cattle into a stock trailer.

Back in Feburary, Mike decided that it was time to round up most of our tiny herd and send them to the sale barn. A date was decided upon, and arrangements were made to borrow a stock trailer. Those darling babies that we had so tenderly bottle fed were now grown up, and it was time to say goodbye.

Personally, I was elated. Fajita and TopRound were now weighing well over 600 pounds each, and in spite of the fact that they had been castrated, had taken to acting rather "bullish". Knocking the other calves around, breaking through fences, busting the latch on the barn door, and "stampeding" us on an almost weekly basis. Now it's one thing to have eight large calves galloping up at dinnertime when they are called. But it's something else altogether when you find you aren't safe crossing your own pasture because when you look up, you notice the whole herd is after you, and gaining fast. After having to duck behind trees and frantically set the dog after them to convince them I really didn't want to play, I was ready to bid them adieu.

The only trouble was, we don't have one of those dandy cattle chutes. Now for those of you who have no idea what a cattle chute is, let me explain that most farms and ranches where cattle are kept have at least one, if not several of them. A proper cattle chute is connected to a small fenced area, known as a corral. At one end of the corral, there is a narrow, enclosed ramp that inclines slightly upward. Think of it as the bovine version of Stairway to Heaven... The idea is to gather the cattle into the corral, and send them one at a time up the ramp and into the waiting vehicle. The chute, being too small to turn around in, leaves cattle with no where to go but up and they are loaded with a minimum of fuss. The system is near perfect in it's simplicity.

At 5:00AM on the appointed morning, I awoke to find Mike already dressed and ready to load the calves.
"Wait. I'll help you" I offered.
"No, you go back to sleep, I can get them." Since it was forecasted to be the coldest day of the year, I didn't press the issue. I snuggled deeper into the quilts, and dozed off.

In less than 15 minutes he was back, putting on another coat.
Barely awake, I again offered "Honey, can I help?"
His confident reply "No, no, I can get it. It's just colder than I thought."
So again, I willingly went back to sleep. But not for long. The third time, when he came in to put on his long underwear, I could tell he was a bit upset. As he snapped on the light and jerked open the dresser drawer, I barely poked my head out from under the covers and asked "How's it going?"
Slamming the drawer closed, he snapped back "Fine. Everything's just fine."
Feeling guilty, I said "Honey, wait and I'll get dressed and help you".
"No, I can do it, it's just really cold out there." he answered quickly.
"So the cattle are loading alright?" I innocently asked.
Buttoning up his second coat, he answered "Yes, I'm going to get those SOB's loaded if it kills me." Propping myself up on my elbows, I said "So it's going that well, huh?"
He clenched his jaw and said "I'll figure something out" as he flipped off the light and stormed back outside.

I lay there in the dark pondering the options;Needless to say, I found myself standing on the porch, bundled like the abomidable snowman. At a quarter to six in the morning, it was still pich black outside. It was also snowing. Dazzling, whirling clouds of snow seemed to blow from all directions at once. From somewhere in the direction of the pasture, I could hear the low moo of the calves, and the frustrated ranting of my husband. As I neared the pasture gate, I could barely make out the shape of the trailer, parked in the center of the field, with the calves galloping around it like carousel ponies.

Amazingly, he had somehow managed to load three of the calves.
"Honey, what are you doing?" I asked dodging a calf or two as they rounded the trailer.
Walking quickly past me, he said "I'm trying to chase these cows up onto the trailer. They get right up to the gate, and then they take off around the side. Stand there, and I'll run them around. You shoo them up into the trailer when they turn the corner."
I'd had some prior experience with attempting to "shoo" the calves before, and I had my misgivings.
But he just called back over his shoulder "Just stand there and don't let them get away."

So I stood there and watched the calves trot by. Once in a while, one might be so inclined as to be somewher near the opening of the trailer as it rounded the corner, but it would quickly realize it's mistake, and cut back to join the others. When one calf went by dragging Mike, who was hanging on to it's tail shouting "Whoa, Whoa!!", I knew it was time for another plan.

After a quick confrernce between us, we decided to call the cows into the barn, and back the trailer up to it. Happy to finally have someplace to go, the calves followed willingly as I led them into the barn with a bucket of feed. Once the trailer was in position, we opened the barn door so that it met the open trailer gate, forming a corral of sorts. Mike climbed over the gate, and began to herd the calves up to the trailer. It was working. Our problem had been that the calves had too many options before...Should I go in the trailer? Should I go around the trailer? Should I take off bucking and kicking to the far end of the pasture?...Yes indeed, we realized right away that to limit a cow's options made the whole thing go alot easier.

But then we hit a snag. Although the calves walked right up to the trailer, they didn't go in it. This is where that chute thing would have come in handy, but as I mentioned, we didn't happen to have one. It seems that actually getting into the trailer required the calves to step UP, and they had apparently not mastered the concept. They would simply stand there, looking in at the three more agile steers who were already loaded.

They could very well still be standing there, except that Mike did the manly thing and took control of the situiation. He simply walked over, and picked up the front end of the calf to get his front feet into the trailer. Once the front feet were loaded, the rest of the calf followed on it's own. Well, almost on it's own, they also required a "boost" from behind before they got the hang of it. {You've got to remember that the smallest of these calves weighed in at over 300 pounds.} He managed to load two more like that before he decided that the "trailer was full", and although there were still a couple of calves milling about in the barn, closed the gate.

Now you know why we still have two calves, and why Mike walked funny for a couple of weeks afterward. I called it his "Cowboy Swagger". If memory serves me correctly, he referred to it as a hernia.


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