Whose Cow Is It?

Eastern Nevada includes some big country that is unfenced but divided by mountain ranges or roughly controlled by water availability.  A bovine with an urge to travel can end up a long way from home and the fall works is a good time to look through the herd to see if the total count includes some cattle bearing your neighbor’s brand.

One winter my neighbor Bob (names have been changed) called to say he had found a cow of mine that I could pick up at the little feedlot at his headquarters.  Although our headquarters were almost 130 miles apart by road we had summer ranges separated only by a small, rugged mountain range.

I had been to Bob’s feedlot before and the confinement and the facilities were minimal so I loaded a good horse in the trailer and headed to get my cow.  It was no surprise that Bob wasn’t around when I got there.  I figured he was at a distant corner of his place, so I backed my trailer into his loading area, unloaded my horse and sorted my cow out of the odds and ends in the second pen.  Everything went smoothly and I was soon loaded and pulling out for the drive home.

I was just to the ranch gate when Bob showed up and we stopped to talk a bit.  He asked if I’d also take the cow he had back to my other neighbors that were 70 miles on past me.  Bob said he was sure she was their cow since she was just as destructive and ignorant as Fred and Joe and he was sure tired of having her around.  I wanted to be helpful so I returned to the trailer chute and started round two.

Bob pointed out the cow which did demonstrate a surly attitude but had no clearly visible brand.  I wasn’t anxious to haul a cow 200 miles in the wrong direction so I declined to take her unless we could verify she was branded to Fred or Joe.  This offended Bob who was confident of the cow’s origin but his desire to be rid of her prompted agreement to take her to the squeeze for a cowboy brand inspection.

The more we worked with the cow the less she liked it and by now she was trying to retaliate at every chance.  We did get her in the squeeze chute and started looking for ownership clues.  There were no definable rib or hip brands and Bob’s old chute didn’t allow much access to the shoulders.  We wrestled her head to get a look at the Bangs vaccination clip in her right ear.  It showed a state code number for Utah that increased my skepticism that she belonged to Fred or Joe since I knew they raised their own replacements that would have a Nevada vaccination.

As the cow fought us and the old chute, Bob became more and more committed to his theory that she belonged to Fred and Joe.  She finally repositioned to where I could feel her left shoulder and I was confident I could feel a brand there but could not determine what it was.  I asked Bob if he had some clippers so we could trim the hair and see the brand.  He cussed a blue streak at the additional effort but went to the barn to get his clippers.

On his return, Bob started a violent job of clipping the cow’s left shoulder.  He was almost done when the cow lunged forward in the chute, pinning the clippers and mashing his hand against the headcatch.  Any unspent animosity was now put into words as Bob stomped on the pedal to open the side door and relieve the pressure on his hand.  The door opened and the cow swung away awkwardly with her head still caught.  Bob’s hand came free and the clipping was sufficient to reveal Bob’s own brand on the cow’s shoulder.  I really wanted to ask where he would like me to haul her to, but decided the time wasn’t right.

I have made plenty of mistakes myself.  We all make mistakes, but they are sure more bitter when we make them in public.


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