Sunday, April 17, 2016

Bulls & Little Cowboys

Little Cowboys and Impressions
Red Doc Sale
By Stephen L. Wilmeth

            My earliest memory of bulls was on the Mangus with my paternal grandparents.
            Grandpa Albert was the influence and the impressions were various. Horned Hereford bulls were the norm and they seemed to fight just to stay in practice. I was always taught to steer clear of them especially when they were fighting. It wasn’t just the fight that was of greatest concern. It was the retreat of the loser in his wild eyed departure. It was accompanied invariably by the winner chasing him trying to get a parting shot at an exposed hip. Both would run bawling and screaming open mouthed. If you were in the way, you might wind up being a real casualty.
            There were epic battles when you could hear bulls fighting through the night. Guttural combat of raw power and drama echoed across the valley bottom. They’d fight and rest only to resume the battle. I can remember witnessing my grandfather penning them in disgust suggesting he hoped they’d get tired or one or the other would end the fight.
            Those were also the days of screw worms. The wounds from the fights were as dangerous to their wellbeing as the fight itself. Cleaning wound channels from goring was necessary for treatment if the screw worm flies found that exposed, bloody and vulnerable flesh. The hatched larvae would be working alive while consuming living flesh.
             Horns became a dreaded thing in my view of cattle.
            That was made worse by dehorning calves or witnessing horned cattle coming off cattle trucks at the old stockyards below Silver City. Broken horns and spewing blood were nasty outcomes that I found very unappealing and traumatic. Pink eye was no different. At spring brandings, treating pink eye in too many of those white faced Herefords was a normal practice. I hated pinkeye as much as I hated those horns.
            Perhaps those issues would be expected to turn any kid against ranching, but it didn’t. From the time I was little, it was all I ever wanted to do. I did, however, develop affinities of preferences in cattle. I don’t like horns. I don’t like pink eye. I don’t like bulls you can’t work safely around. I want cattle that fit our country and I want them uniform.
If they are red … all the better.
            Santa Gertrudis
            The first Santa Gertrudis cattle I ever saw were below White Signal at Homer Arnn’s. Homer had come from a big country Arizona ranch near the end of his life. He bought a place down there and stocked it with strange new cattle. They were liver colored red and massive things. I can remember looking at their scurred horns with a bit of fascination. Hereford horns never looked like that.
            Dick Hays developed a relationship with Homer and it was being there with him and Hank that I was exposed to them. Dick kept Homer’s wells pumping and his water system together. Homer didn’t have any heirs that we knew of and I know that he tried to get Dick to stick around. He told Dick he could have the Hogback if he’d only commit. Dick and Hank would have been good for Homer and much as Homer would have been good for them, but that never happened.
            What is left are the memories of Homer and his cattle.
            Homer himself was a rotund fellow who looked like he had always been at a full trough. He was funny and good to us boys. For the years he was around, we always had a good Homer story. One of them was about his longevity. Hank asked him one time what he attributed it to. Homer told him it was eating sardines and drinking whiskey on Sundays. An answer that good had real impact. I have always loved … sardines.
            His cattle came from the breeding program at the King Ranch which had a vision of developing a hardy, heat tolerant breed of cattle that could withstand the harsh conditions of south Texas and yet produce beef of superior quality. They crossed Brahman cattle with shorthorns to develop an animal that is 3/8ths Brahman and 5/8ths shorthorn. In 1920, the distinctive color of the breed appeared in a calf they called Monkey. The calf became the breed’s foundation sire. The cattle were recognized as a distinct breed, the first breed developed in the United States, by the USDA in 1940.
            Today, the cattle continue to be developed not just for crossbreeding and hybrid vigor, but for a better marbled and tenderer beef for the consumers’ table around the world. It now thrives in harsh ranching conditions all over the globe and is the most prevalent breed in Australia.         

Red Doc
            Last Saturday we attended the Red Doc Red Hot Santa Gertrudis sale in Belen. This sale, produced and graciously hosted by the Sanchez family of Belen, was held in conjunction with the 65th Annual Rocky Mountain Santa Gertrudis Association meeting held this year in Albuquerque.
            We had come to buy some bulls for our rugged high desert country of southern New Mexico. The bulls were intended to go on our crossbred cows with strong red Angus/ Beefmaster influences.
            The sale was well attended with many association members and guests from across the country as well as strong regular attendance by Texas, New Mexico, and Mexican cowmen. It was a time to view good cattle and mingle with hats and contemporaries.
            Our littlest cowboy, our only grandson, was with us and it was through his eyes and actions that made the event even more special. He had his note pad and pencil out as we viewed the animals and made our visual inspection that added to our technical assessments. He caught quite a bit of attention and had his picture taken with several people. One lady from North Carolina told him she had come all the way to New Mexico to find a real cowboy and she had finally found one.
            As Texas auctioneer Leo Casas finally tagged us with a winning bid, Aden flashed our buyer number at him and conversation from Leo to Aden became an ongoing theme. Who knows what those exchanges of communication might bring. Leo might well have lodged some influence on a little cowboy that might not only be another son of the American West, but a steward of our way of life.
            His granddad would be elated.
            The science and the art of breeding cattle are more important today than ever.
             Every major breed of cattle has contributed to the state of America’s beef herd. Each has provided unique genes that in combination make our national herd more tolerant of the varied conditions that constitute cow country. The technology of the business is growing in leaps and bounds and fine tuning cattle to specific conditions is not just a dream but a growing reality. The industry isn’t just looking at conception and breed back, but docility, feed conversion efficiencies, carcass quality and longevity. It is an amazing time to be in the cow business, but the industry’s participation recruitment is vital. Young cowmen, scientists, veterinarians, auctioneers, bankers, marketers, and truckers are all critical to its future.
            Next week we will go back to Belen to haul the bulls purchased in the sale to their new home in southwestern New Mexico. We will be in the alley with them convincing them to load and we expect them to act somewhat like gentlemen. They will revert to being bulls from time to time, but then we will insist they respect our interactions with them.
            Giving him every opportunity to be involved in our industry, I intend to have my little cowboy with me. He will be protected from undue risk, but, when the conditions are right, he will be part of the process. I want him to learn to see, hear, smell, feel and anticipate the interactions with these amazing genetic creations.
There is nothing more symbolic of our trade than a bunch of bulls. I am glad strides have been made to take the raw nastiness out of bull batteries, and, along with it, shortcomings that make life better both for these resilient and productive animals and … their stewards.

Little cowboys can get tuckered out

            Stephen L. Wilmeth is a rancher from southern New Mexico. “Long live … little cowboys.”

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