I’m a cowboy and Dublin is a cowdog, or at least we got to play pretend for a few days this weekend. It’s been 20 years since I’ve been on a horse after taking riding lessons as a child. That came to a swift end after I developed a sudden and severe allergy, my eyes swelled shut and my bronchial tubes imploded. We never established what exactly I was allergic too, be it the horse dander, the hay, or something else at the training site.
Up at dawn the morning of the Branding, I took 2 benadryl in hopes of staving off death long enough to make it to town should the old allergy rear its ugly head, but I didn’t have so much as a cough the entire weekend and not for lack of exposure to hay, horse, cow, and mud. And since all my old cowboy getup was long outgrown, this city slicker had to hack it in Sketchers and long white socks instead of chaps and cowboy boots, and no Stetson in sight.
Despite a long afternoon of work on the schedule, the other ranch chores couldn’t wait for a day so we were out feeding as soon as the sun came up. When we took the first bale of hay we saw a cow on the ground in distress. She was a heifer–yet to birth a calf–and she was lying on the ground trying to birth a too large calf. I sat on her back to keep her calm and down while Kara and Roe used a tow rope to try and extract the calf past the shoulders. The calf was already gone and when the placenta came out with the calf it was a sign that it must have detached hours before in the middle of the night.
It was a hard start to the day, but it wasn’t the last dead calf. One had been taken by the snow and another that failed to nurse was hovering on death’s door. Kara prepared a bottle of formula and we fed it directly into its stomach and propped it up in a nice warm spot near the side of an old car where the sun and its reflection off the car would warm both sides of the calf: a long shot but worth the effort. Before all the cows and horses were fed another mother was starting her delivery but this time all was going well and we saw the newborn calf walking around an hour later.
Although I was mostly a spare wheel, Kara got a lot more work done before 10am than you’d expect would get done in an whole day. Another full day’s work by city standards was done before noon preparing for the branding and the party afterwards. Then we brushed out the horses, saddled up, and road out to round up the cattle.
While I tried my best not to kill myself or my horse, Big Red, Dublin and Mercury were in dog heaven. Mercury found a stream to play in and decided that his role in the cattle drive was to wallow in the mud and howl with glee. Dublin paired up with Kara’s cowdog Oscar and helped push cattle.
Dublin’s breeder runs cattle and although his parents were sheep dogs, his grandfather works cattle and was the Reserve National Cattle Dog in 2008. This was the first time Dublin has seen cattle and he was a natural. There were so many riders on horseback during the roundup that the dogs weren’t as vital on the drive as they would have been to a solo shepherd, but when we got the cattle crammed into the corral for the branding Dublin pulled out the stops twice, making me quite the proud papa.
It was just chance that I had my camera out and shotting as we came down the final fence line before bringing in the trailers to block the cow’s escape back to the pasture and start the branding. I snapped a shot of Dublin with the cattle in the background and still had the camera on when an obstinate calf decided that it wanted to keep its testicles today and bolted past the front line riders and made a b-line for open pasture. I called out to Dublin and stopped that calf dead in its tracks between the fence and a power line post. With an experienced cattleman doubling back to retrieve the calf, Dublin turned it around and blocked its escape.
Dublin was very pleased with himself and I was too. That’s my boy.
Only a few minutes later after the vast majority of the cattle were crammed at the end of the drive, one of the oldest calves made a break for it and managed to clear the last open gate back into pasture. Dublin wasn’t going to have any of that and so he slinked through the barbed wire fence and single handedly marched that calf back through the gate.
So, while I had an amazing weekend rediscovering the joy of riding a horse, getting some real work done before breakfast, and playing at cowpoke, Dublin was existentially a very good cattle dog and more than carried his weight on our working vacation. He was clearly upset when we had to go and he’s spent the last few days mourning his Wyoming adventure, giving me the stinkeye and foregoing his usual sleeping spot on the end of my mattress. It’s been a week since we started our trip and we’ve been home since Monday night, but only this morning were we on talking terms again. And by that I mean that he accepted his usual morning milk bone from my hand instead of scoffing at the deal that he has to like me if I feed him.
I’m sure he’s already counting the days until Branding 2012, just like me.
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