Before the Storm? Laura Hicks

It was the middle of March, the weather forecasters were predicting 3-6 inches of new snow with the winds coming up in the evening and causing near blizzard conditions. This wasn’t anything new for the winter of 2001, but still something we always prepared for. Mike was gone, hauling cows for a client to a salebarn in eastern South Dakota. He called and said, "Get the horses in and get ready to gather the heavy cows and move the pairs to the calf pasture! I'll be home by the time Dustin is out of school and we'll get started then." Let me tell you, getting ready was by far the easiest part of the afternoon!

Horses in and saddled. Kids dressed as warm as possible. My right hand dog, Whit, was at my side. We were ready to go! Unfortunately, that enthusiasm was fairly short lived. I am convinced that if something is good for a cow, she will fight it with every ounce of her being, if she can make it tough on you while she's doing it, that's an added bonus.

Dustin was on his faithful, old horse Tonto. Brady and I were riding Bob. (Don't ask, it's a long story on the name.) Mike was riding his young horse, Cisco. We started out to the pasture all visiting and enjoying each others company. It was cold out, but at least no moisture. Wait, I spoke to soon. Not a half mile from the house, it started raining. Actually, it was more of a rain/snow mix. It started out slow and we thought no problem. By the time we made it home, several hours later, it was coming down so hard we couldn't see our horses ears in front of us.

Before I go any further with this story, I have to tell you, we had just bought these cows and the spring of 2001 was our first calving season with them. Therefore, we hadn't had a chance to cull out the renegades yet. Of course, since we bought open cows and bred them ourselves, we did end up with several other people’s "wild ones"!

Anyway, we got to the north end of the pasture and started gathering everything up. One cow jumped the far fence, taking her newborn calf with her. Mike opened the gate to go get her. Two other cows, one with a day old calf, beat me to the gate. Whit got the heavy cow turned back right away, but the cow and calf were headed north faster than most deer I've seen. I knew I wasn't going to be able to get around her in time with Brady on with me, so I sent Whit around to try to stop a running cow with a calf. He kicked it in overdrive and made a beeline for the head of that cow. (Thank goodness he didn’t try to do any ‘pear shaped’ outrun there!) He whipped around a few feet in front of her and stood his ground. She stopped! He never bit her, didn't need to. I am sure she remembered the early lessons back in the pens. When he tried moving her, she of course had to test him. Whit won, she ended up back in with the bunch!

Finally, we got everything gathered and had them moving good to the south end when one dry cow decided she wanted no part of that action. Nothing I hate worse than a bunch quitter! She put her head in the air and took off. Dustin happened to be right where she was coming through. He had his head down bucking the rain and snow and didn't see her coming at him. (A few of these cows have been known to hit a horse before.) Whit was between Dustin and me; he took off towards her and this time there wasn't any trying to be nice. He jumped up and grabbed the cow by the end of the nose just before she got to Dustin. She flung Whit out there quite a ways, but he headed right back and stood his ground between Dustin and her. She decided Whit's bite was definitely not something to mess around with, so she quietly turned back to the bunch and walked into the lot. Brady, Dustin and I were all cheering for Whit! I think I actually saw Whit's chest swell up.

It was after dark by the time we made it to the house. All of us were soaked to the bone and freezing. Whit was too tired to eat, but not the boys. You'd have thought they had holes in their bellies the way they ate.

We ended up getting about 6 inches of new snow, after the inch of rain we got first. Calves all made it through fine and we humans were really no worse for the wear. As for Whit, he was sitting at the kennel door bright and early the next morning, ready for more.