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by Dennis Fischer

The tragedy of Mad Cow disease reminds the author of a different kind of “mad” cow.

Out here in the West, range cattle are well-known for their ornery dispositions. Their instincts for survival are strong, and stories of their aggressive behavior are legendary. The dairy cows I grew up around however are docile creatures, even considered dull-witted by some. This is the story of a cow that was neither of these things.

She was a purebred Holstein. Very pretty, and a first-time mamma. Now, mothers tend to be very protective of their babies, so when the boss and I went to bring her and her new calf up from the pasture where she’d been for some months, we thought we knew what we were in for. We thought. We knew the dangers of a first-time mamma cow around her new calf. We had been in this situation many times before, but we were not at all prepared for what was to come. Our plan was simple enough. One of us would distract the cow, and the other one would grab the calf. We’d throw the calf in the back of the truck and mamma, however anxious or irritated, would follow the truck and calf to the barn. Easy.

We pulled into the pasture and stopped the truck a ways from mamma and her baby. The new arrival was a heifer, a sparkling carbon copy of her mother. From the minute we stepped out of the truck, we were met with a threatening glare from the cow. Her ears were standing erect, her eyes were wide and nostrils flared. We’d seen this before. We kept on walking. With her head high and sniffing the air, she acted as if she’d never seen a human being before. She was becoming very nervous very quickly. Now she started circling the calf, alternately sniffing her and raising her head to snort at us. We stopped, giving her a moment to calm down. While we waited, we honed our plan. Since I was young and long-legged, I’d be the distraction and the boss would grab the calf. I was soon to find out just how badly I’d need my youth and long legs, and how close I’d come to losing them both.

We came a few more steps towards them and that’s when all hell broke loose. The cow came charging at us like a runaway freight train with no intention of stopping. Fear and common sense told me this was not a bluff and that running would be a real good idea, but run to where? She was already closer to us than the truck was, so I headed for a nearby oak tree. I don’t remember now why I decided against climbing it. Did I not have time? Was it too big? Anyway, I decided to just run around it. The cow would soon realize that she couldn’t get me and tire of the chase, right? Wrong!

The boss didn’t move. I think at first he was in shock, but now he was unable to move because he was laughing so hard. I, on the other hand, could see no humor in the situation and was tiring quickly. I remember hollering at him to “get this crazy #%^* cow off of me.”

Just when I thought I was done for, the boss came running, hollering and waving his arms. Thank God – I thought my lungs were going to explode. Now it was his turn. He was soon going around the tree with Bossie in hot pursuit. I stood still, trying to catch my breath. When I thought I had enough wind, I ran for the truck. I jumped in and slammed the door. Whew! That was too close.

Now what? Time to rescue the boss. I started the pickup and headed for them. The timing was great. Just as I caught the cow’s attention she stopped on the back side of the tree. The boss was coming around the front and made a mad dash for the truck. Safe. The cow stood there glaring at us, her sides heaving, still showing no sign of calming down or giving up. Well, could we play this game all the way to the barn? Let’s make a grab for the calf.”

Bovinus Beligerantus was still wanting to fight something, but not the truck. She stood there as I drove toward the calf. But as soon as the boss got out, here she came – full throttle. He threw the calf in the back and jumped in with her, hollering, “Go, go!” I was already in reverse and diggin’ dirt. Just as I completed a half circle and was ready to head out, here was a half-ton of mad cow trying to jump in the back of the truck. Now it was my turn to laugh. I’m sorry, but here’s this crazy cow trying to get in the truck and the boss is up tight against the cab, beating on the roof, hollering at me to “get the #&%^* out of there.” It was too funny!

I sped out of the pasture and headed for the barn. It soon became apparent that were not dealing with your ordinary mamma cow. She was out of her mind and totally out of control. I stopped the truck near the barn, planning to grab the calf and run into the barn with her, but before I could grab her I was being charged again. I was afraid I didn’t have time to open the truck door so I ran toward the field, hoping the cow would stop by her calf. She didn’t. She was going to kill me.

I knew I couldn’t outrun her, so I started to circle back. I could see the boss rushing in to join the fray. He reached down and grabbed a big hard ball of dried mud and threw it with all his might. It caught the cow right between the eyes and she went down like a ton of bricks. We discussed putting a chain on her and hooking her to the tractor, but then decided that being knocked out would surely cool her down and change her attitude. We stood behind her and waited for her to come to. Big mistake!

She woke up bellowing and shaking her head. The first thing she saw was the barbed wire fence in front of her. She got to her feet and went through it like it wasn’t even there. Not only did she go through that fence, but right through another one and into the pasture where she had given birth to the calf. This was no longer even remotely funny.

By now that cow was crazier than ever. We jumped back into the truck, and drove back to the pasture with the calf still in the back. One quick pass was all it took. the rodeo was on again. This time we drove right into the barn, and she was not far behind. As soon as she was in, we ran out the side door and doubled back, closing the big doors. Finally, we had her. Sort of.

Plan #9. We would get a rope, a very long rope, and get a noose on her. Then all we had to do was go through the stall with the rope and take up the slack until until her head was in the stanchion. Close the stanchion and voilà – job done.

(Now then, there is another whole chapter to this part. But in the interest of time and space, let me just say that God and good luck were on our side … it worked.)

That cow never left her stall after that. We brought the calf to her twice a day until she was weaned. We milked her and cleaned her stall without incident. We never got around to giving her a name; she was just “that crazy *&^# cow in the stall,” or “Craze.” She had actually become a very well-mannered cow in the stall, but we weren’t taking any chances.

Several months later, fortune for the boss took a radical turn. The farm he had worked so hard to turn around was being sold to the brother who had nearly lost it fifteen years earlier. There would be a sale and there was nothing the boss could do about it. We didn’t know the brother’s plans, but they didn’t include milking cows. The cows would be sold.

Sale day for the boss was heartbreaking and bitter. We watched it go by from the window of his little house adjacent to the farm. There was a very sturdy corral next to the barn where the cows were being auctioned, and we had a good view of it. Now, the new owner knew about Craze, and she would be the last one to be sold. He knew he couldn’t sell a cow that couldn’t be let out of her stall, so he could only hope that her many months in lock-up had tamed her. He unlatched the stanchion.

By now the boss’s wife was at the window with us and we were giddy with anticipation. The auctioneer had barely started his patter when people started popping out of that corral like popcorn out of a hot kettle. “Yee-haw – here comes Craze!” It was unbelievable. In a matter of seconds that corral was emptier than a politician’s promise, except for one very crazy Holstein cow who was circling and blowing snot, challenging all comers to get in the ring with her. “You show ‘em, Craze!” – she was the underdog – they were the enemy, and now she was our champion. Oh, how we cheered!

Soon, the crowd was gone and a crazy Holstein cow was left alone to look out between the boards of the corral. At what, for what – God only knows. We felt her anguish, and wished that things weren’t so. We knew the rest of the story was already written and we couldn’t change it.

Shortly before supper time, we saw the truck pull in and back up to the corral. It was the by-products truck. Craze was going to become hide, glue, and dog food. We turned from the window and talked of other things, not wanting to hear the crack of the rifle or the sound of the winch pulling her up into the truck.

Farming is a tough business and it calls for tough decisions, decisions that often cannot be made with the heart. Nevertheless, bonds are built between a farmer and his charges. They are bonds built of respect and responsibility, of understanding and acceptance. That’s what a farmer does – he cares, and accepts and goes on. And this ex-farmer remembers a cow called “Craze.”

Nathrop resident Dennis Fischer is a musician, cowboy poet, wagon restorer, mule owner, Vietnam Vet and published author.