During my morning pen-checking rounds I came across a yearling red and white steer with a bad case of foot rot. Now there is nothing unusual about that, being that I find many cattle with this problem every day.
The difference in this case, was that this particular steer was badly foundered to start with. On his best day, he was only able to shuffle around a very small area between the feed bunk (on the edge of which he seemed to live) and the water bowl. Anything more was asking a lot from the poor creature. Anyway, this particular morning when I managed to get him up off the steaming bed-pack, I noticed one of his back feet was swollen up like a tetherball.
After feeling sorry for him for having to move all the way down the alley to the hospital pens, and then feeling sorry for myself for the extra minutes it was going to take out of my morning, I shifted my weight in my saddle and tried to stretch the kinks out of my legs the best I could. He wasn’t the only one feeling sore this morning. With a deep breath, I began to push him toward the gate.
Now anyone who has ever had the pleasure of pulling a foundered steer or heifer out of a pen knows that this can be very time-consuming, not to mention frustrating, so I resigned myself to the fact that this was going to take some patience.
Twenty minutes later, I finally had him about 10 feet from the gate. Old Sonny was well sweated by this time and so was I. The air had been saturated with a wide variety of colourful phrases and adjectives and the three of us stood at a standstill squaring off for what I hoped would be the final surge out the gate.
A foundered animal is by no means fast but they can be very stubborn and difficult, which come to think of it described me quite well too. This red and white fellow was doing his best to uphold these high standards and nothing to dispel the stereotype. He had already pushed his way by Sonny and I several times in his slow-motion non-fearing way and I was to the point of bringing out my rope and moving him out whether he wanted to go or not.
I had decided this was to be his last chance. I didn’t want to take extreme actions with him, because I sympathized with the way he felt, but a fellow can take only so much.
After staring each other down for a minute, he managed to get turned crosswise to us and tried to make a dash for freedom along the fence. Sonny smartly stepped into his path, taking a solid bodycheck in the chest. The steer lost his footing and fell with his head facing out into the alley. We crowded him as he got back to his feet and with a push from Sonny’s front end he was out and heading down the alley.
As I pushed him awkwardly toward the hospital pens, I used the time and the cool breeze to calm my nerves and cool my sweated face. Partway there, I remembered for some reason that I too had an appointment at the hospital in the next few days. Like the steer, I had been doing my best to avoid seeing the doctor, having cancelled and re-scheduled my physical more than once in the last couple of months. My wife was not impressed, and had warned me in no uncertain terms that this time I had better get my butt there or else. I didn’t like to think about what the “or else” could mean.
After one more valiant effort to get by me on his part and more than one face-to-face confrontation with Sonny, the steer seemed to finally give in and moved more easily down the alley. With a few more pushes and nips to the tail head from Sonny, we arrived at the hospital pens. After latching the gate, I called to one of the staff to take care of him better than most. He was stiff and sore and didn’t need any more grief. I knew the feeling as I stretched my legs and knees once again.
After finishing my rounds that morning, I went back to the return pens to take the pulls home. There he was with a red stripe across his white backside showing he had been treated. In a few days, he would be as good as new (well maybe not new but as good as he could possibly be with his condition). I leaned from the saddle and opened the gate. He moved willingly past me into the alley and headed confidently toward his pen, much more eager to go back than he had been to come out in the first place.
When he jogged stiff-legged through his gate, he was met by a bunch of his pen buddies giving him a hard time.
Later, I reminded myself to go back and check on him. Make sure he wasn’t getting picked on. We hard-done-by, stiff and sore fellows, had to look out for each other.