Friday, April 8, 2011

Market Day

     When Justin called at 5:30 this morning, the moon had set and the brightest object in the sky was Pluto sliding across the southern horizon. The cows bedded down in the back lot were not expecting such an early breakfast, but Joe creaked to a standing position, got dressed, pulled on his Muck boots and with flashlight in hand went to help them rise and shine. I grabbed a cattle stick and stepped out the back door just in time to see the light bobbing across the dark lot as Joe made his way out to the shed. I settled down on the back steps to watch and wait until he needed some help. The sound of the shed door sliding open woke the steers and heifers who, like Pavlov’s dogs connect that sound to food. They began to low softly and I could hear them stirring and shuffling as they unfolded their legs and rose to stroll in the general direction of the shed. I still couldn’t see them because it was dark and the majority of the cows were black.
     Joe filled his bucket and then slipped across the lot. “Whooo, sook calf, sook calf.” He called softly in the morning air and the cows answered with their own morning song. Walking back and forth across the lot, Joe called again and shook his bucket so the grain rattled. I still couldn’t see them, but I could sense the movement of calves as they lined up and followed him into the pen. Joe poured the grain in the trough and the flashlight beam played across the backs of the steers. Then, he called out to me. “Turn on the back light,” so I slipped inside and flipped the switch. There were two steers on the wrong side of the pen and in another minute, the rest of the cattle streamed out to join them. So much for fooling them into the pen with grain.
     I clicked open the gate and stepped out to help. It was hard to walk on the rough ground in the dark and I stumbled a couple of times as I crossed the wet ditch. The mud sucked at my boots and the steers, who were now backlit by the porch light watched me curiously as I squelched around behind them to try and force them into the pen. I could tell that they were anxious as they pondered this predator sneaking up on them in the dark. Several tried to break away and I waved my white stick. The uneasy calves changed their minds and backed up to huddle in the corner. In a moment we heard the rattle of an aluminum trailer bouncing down our driveway. Help had arrived.
     Justin and his friend Michael parked and jumped out to help. In another two minutes the steers were all streaming into the open gate. With a few deft touches of their cattle sticks, the guys sent the heifers back out and the steers were loaded onto the trailer. Then Justin and Michael pulled out the driveway and headed to Staunton. Joe and I headed to the house for showers and breakfast. It was time to go to work.

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