Anyone who has handled cattle a lot will notice that cattle handle differently depending on gender, age and pairs. Heifers tend to mill in the corral a lot more than steers. Cows with young calves are more fighty than when the calves are older. Bulls are the easiest to handle, if you don’t get them heated up and mad.
Most of my experiences with bulls have been OK. Bulls, when you are trying to move them, however, will sometimes take to a pond and swim to the middle and refuse to leave when they feel they have traveled enough. I once trailed a bull all the way to the corral where I had a trailer with the gate open waiting at the end of the alley. He did fine till I was ready to stampede him into the trailer. He suddenly spun around and picked me and my horse up and carried us across the corral. I would have gotten off except my leg was trapped between the horse and his hump. The horse finally bucked off and we started over a little more watchful. People do not appreciate the expression “strong as a bull” till they experience bull rage.
A friend and I had seven King Ranch Santa Gertrudis bulls that we shared. Joe had fall calvers and I had spring calvers so we traded bull locations twice a year. I was loading the bulls to return to Joe but was having trouble loading. The boss bull would load and then refuse to let the others on. I cut him back and loaded five and was walking back to get boss bull and the sixth bull. When I got close to the end of the alley the boss bull charged the sixth bull and picked him up, 1,600 pounds, and knocked me down and carried him across me — luckily without stepping on me. Things happen fast sometimes.
I worked for a ranch in the California foothills and ran the commercial herd for Tim Coleman. His herd ran in the higher part of the ranch where the oak trees were and his dad, Jim Coleman, owner of Vintage Angus, ran about 500 top-notch purebred cattle on the lower ranch. We had finished processing cattle and needed to load a single bull to transport to another ranch.
I had a couple of cowboys drive the bull to the loading alley and since it was the end of the day they tended to hurry and made the bull mad. He got on the fight and with my help we soon had him tearing things up. Kenneth, who worked for the purebred end, was watching and finally said, “If you cowboys will get in the other corral I will load that bull for you before he tears the rest of this corral down.” We scoffed and told him to give it his best shot. Kenneth went to the barn and returned with a halter and calmly walked out and haltered the bull and led him into the trailer. He had shown the bull at Denver and other big purebred shows. You couldn’t wipe the grin off his face for days.
I got even with Kenneth later that fall. We had just about finished branding Tim’s commercial calves with the exception of about 10 that had gotten under a gate and were scattered in the several pens that made up the corrals and processing facility that Tim and his dad shared. Danny Pritchard and I went to collect the escapees and when one ran behind the squeeze lead-up, I spooked him back from the other side and noticed a lone calf in a pen next to the barn. I pointed him out to Danny and he gathered him along with the rest. We dropped this bunch into the branding pen and were looking forward to BBQ and beer.
This bunch was processed like the others with an earmark, brand, shots and castration. We were just finishing and as we let the last one up, Kenneth got a horrified look on his face as he walked up to help.
It turns out that the calf we included from the pen by the barn was one of the purebreds. He was being doctored for a bad eye and was in the sick pen. He was an embryo transplant and was the last son of Lass and Pinedrive who were both deceased. The little bull calf was worth $50,000 the day he was born and was now a steer with the wrong brand worth 91 cents a pound. I wondered if a testicle implant would work and if we could fix the earmark and vent the brand to make things right.
I told Kenneth I would take full blame but he was inconsolable. Colemans were great and just shook their heads. I thought it would be my last day, but they never said a word. I really shouldn’t tell stories like this on myself. I am sure I will regret it.
Columnist Barrie Qualle is a working cowboy in Wallowa County.