I have always understood this concept philosophically but didn't really take it to heart until I had cattle of my own. When you deal with live animals that rely on you for certain things it becomes paramount that they remain your first priority.
It's Sunday, the only day we can get enough help to bring in our herd and the weather center is calling for a heat index of 110 degrees. Our working pen is on top of our mountain in the glaring sun and unfortunately we can't reschedule because some of our animals need doctoring and that takes precedence over everything else.
We mount our horses early while it is still cool to move our cattle into our working pen before the heat of the day drives them into the woods. It is quiet and cool, the smooth flow of animals and horses my favorite dance. Without a hitch we get the cows and their calves inside the large working pen and use our horses to begin to separate small groups into the smaller pen that feeds directly into the shoot. There are only 4 of us so it is a lot of jumping on and off horses, doctoring, letting cattle out and repeating the process. As the sun drives into us the hard packed clay of the working pen is as welcoming as cement. I worry about all of us in the heat and our cattle, especially the young ones. We try to work as quickly as we can but it isn't easy in the heat.
The third go around on horseback I am riding my brother-in-law's horse so I don't know his quirks like I would my own horse. In this case it doesn't work out well, going after a small group of cattle to stop them from returning to the herd I get too aggressive and in the end land in the dirt, hard packed clay and rock. It is the kind of fall that makes you want to throw up. Shoulder, elbow and hip take the brutal force. Within minutes my elbow is looming large, about the size of my calf. Not good at all, a lot of pain but I have enough range of motion to believe it is not broken. My call is not to go to the ER but to continue with the work until it's done and worry about my arm later. Getting the animals and us out of the dangerous heat as quickly as possible is all that matters, my arm can wait.
It turned out to be a long day, working with one arm and taking many breaks to ensure the safety of our helpers and ourselves but eventually we got the job done. We doctored 160 head of cattle with four people and three horses in the scorching heat. Every one of us gave all we had to the job.
As the last cattle moved out of the working pens into the shade for water I felt proud at our resilience and dedication to the bigger picture. Moving beyond our own comfort levels to ensure the well-being of our animals made me proud. I am not sure I would have stepped up to the plate like this in my earlier life. At the end of the day with my elbow packed in ice, exhausted beyond belief, I silently paid homage to the men and women who brave terrible conditions every day in honor of the cowboy life. It is a work ethic like no other and today I felt a small part of this vanishing way of life. Proud to be a rancher.
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Long live the Cowboy Way of Life!