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bearden-rebel-heifer-2.jpg Rebecca Bearden
Getting ready for sale day on Blackjack Ranch in Alabama.

On this ranch, your productivity must outweigh your stubbornness

Learn from the rebel heifer, at least behave long enough to get your shot.

Good help is hard to find. I have no doubt that “growing your own” was a significant factor in Daddy and Mama’s choice to have two kids. That was probably the exact number the ranch could support in terms of room and board without going under. The return on investment was more fruitful when we were old enough to reach the tractor pedals and work cattle without serious injury. Daddy made sure that one or both of us would continue his life’s work.  That love for livestock became a part of our identities and the ability to manage the whole operation was a learned skill that my sister embraced and one in which she continues to excel. Rachel not only sets her cattle up for success, she also places her family members in roles she knows they can’t screw up or at least in roles she knows they are prepared to fix if they do screw up.

The very basic endeavor of “working” cattle is usually where this talent is manifested most prominently. When it comes to vaccinations or branding, she can on count me to push them calmly from the holding pen into the chute, at least until the pen has only the two or three stubborn ones that have avoided eye contact. The older mama cows know the drill but resist as a test of sheer will I suppose. “Will I be able to scale that fence?” “Will I roll that person with the whip flag?” or “Will I destroy that one panel you thought you could corner me with?”

These special ladies are usually beyond my pay grade as a solo artist and require backup in the form of my brother-in-law who is also placed aptly by my sister at the squeeze chute head catch. In the event the entire chute comes apart, he is there to repair it. However, he will leave his most desired post to assist me in convincing these cows that none of those “wills” will work today. His will is stronger.

The Labor Day works were a good example. It was 90 degrees at 8 am, but we were thanking God that He had sent a shower the Sunday before to keep the dust down. All went well with the first set of heifers, mostly. Rachel and Brant were attempting to pen the entire bunch, but one of these renegade girls had made her way across the electric fence and into the herd with the older cows the previous night. This heifer was allegedly in heat and had found a friend with whom to commiserate. Rachel and Brant left her there since we were planning to work those older cows after the heifers. After we fininshed the heifers in a reasonable period of time, Rachel and Brant set out to pen the older cows.

The problem was the “hot no-penner” wasn’t planning on being penned period and somehow convinced her newfound friend to stay behind as well. When the traditional ATV with assorted grain didn’t work, Brant ran to get the red F-250 with the big feeder on the back.

After this almost fool-proof method failed, a switch flipped within Brant. He made the executive decision to chase them down with Rachel’s relatively new black Chevy Duramax flatbed rigged with a bail extender and currently supporting various five-gallon buckets of diesel, lariat ropes, net wrap, and cat food bags, none of which were tied down. He raced after the maverick pair with the wrath of a young wrangler who had just been told “he couldn’t.”  I would have bet my custom Montana-made buckaroo boots that there was no way he would herd these two into the trap with a flatbed. Well, I would’ve lost one boot.

After a few minutes of bouncing over terraces and in and out of bull holes, he managed to separate the two and line the hot heifer up against the electric fence. She appeared to be making a bee line for the trap when all of sudden she decided to jump the fence and return to her original herd, the one we’d just worked and released. Since there was no way to pen those poor girls again because they’d retreated to the woods, Brant set his sights on the older cow.

He surprisingly had more success with this one because she had zero desire to test the electric fence and ran right into the trap with the others, huffing and puffing her way to the catch pen. Hot and bothered, the poor thing refused all offers of water and filed into the holding pen with the rest. They all worked reasonably well, though I did have to implore upon Brant’s much-needed “how to out-will the remaining stubborn two” backup skills.

Rachel had originally planned another project for the following Tuesday, but given the events of that Monday, all she could think about Tuesday morning was that it was sale day and if she could pen the un-pennable (and various others on the short list), she’d be on her way to the auction. I guess miracles never cease or the test of wills was over because the previously hot heifer penned and loaded as though she knew her time was up.

As Rachel was about to pull out of the front yard, she joked, “Hashtag, no regrets.”

The take-home message: if you plan to stay on this ranch, your productivity must outweigh your stubbornness. Learn from the rebel heifer, at least behave long enough to get your shot.

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