May the odds be ever in your favor–that’s what I think whenever we have to load cows. There are two types of cows in a cattle chute: passive-aggressive cows (a.k.a immovable cows) and aggressive cows (a.k.a. cows that snort and kick). I can’t blame them. I’d be mad too if an annoying creature was pushing me down a muddy hallway into a strange dark trailer. Cows aren’t the brightest animals in the barnyard, but they aren’t stupid either. If I was in a similar situation and a smaller animal, like a squirrel, was pushing on my hindquarters and yelling gibberish at me, I’d kick the fire out of it too.
The problem is cows don’t respect gentle pleas for mutual cooperation, which is unfortunate for introverts. We, introverts, need a good five minutes just to warm our vocal cords up enough to let out a respectable, “Hey cow, move cow!” By that time, first impressions have already been made, and the cows have identified us as a pushover. In fact, statistically speaking there are more extroverts currently in America because way back in the Wild West days introverts were more likely to get pushed over and trampled by cows, drastically reducing their ability to mosey into a town and attract mates with their best Clint Eastwood impression.
Sometimes my wife asks me why we need so much farm junk, and the short answer is, “mud.” When your trailer with four cows on it gets stuck after managing to make it two whole feet from the corral, you need a tractor to pull the truck and trailer out. And when your tractor bottoms out trying to pull the truck and trailer out, you need another tractor to pull out the first tractor and truck and trailer.
Same goes for boots. Farmers have to have multiple pairs of boots to extricate footwear from mud holes. This time of year, cows have a considerable advantage because they don’t have to wear rubber boots in the mud. Boots are notoriously slow to biodegrade, as evidenced by the fact that ancient boots have been located, without their partner boot, in archaeological sites, meaning long ago an ancient farmer was likely hopping around on one foot trying not to get his ancient sock dirty. Whether he fell over and took a breather to wallow in the self-pity of a good mud hole, we may never know–but we do know he left a boot for perpetuity, a sign of man’s endless battle against mud.
I was recently expanding my knowledge by watching an educational TV program in which men of science investigate extraterrestrial activity at a farm called “Skinwalker Ranch.” The series starts off with the men of science standing around a dead cow in a pasture, and one man of science states authoritatively, “This isn’t normal. It’s hard to kill a cow.” The other men of science agree, which is why my wife has very little respect for men or science.
Notably, she points out there are no women of science involved in this investigation, which is a good point but easily explained: Likely women of science are too busy trying to cure cancer or other human ailments and not prioritizing what really matters, like whether extraterrestrials are visiting earth and tormenting our cows.
Apparently, the reason the ranch is called “Skinwalker Ranch” is because the aliens beamed themselves down to earth, where they then use shapeshifting abilities to change skins and impersonate humans, meaning they’re hiding in plain sight and then sneaking off to kill cows in their down time. Of course, the men of science have some alternative hypotheses for the cow deaths, including radiation from UFO spaceships, laser beams from UFO spaceships, and one admittedly outlandish theory that the cow deaths are terrestrial in origin and caused by a yet-to-be discovered cryptozoological species living in a nearby desert cave.
Speaking of cryptozoological species, the head of security for the investigative team is named “Dragon.” Dragon’s job is to carry big guns everywhere to protect the men of science from the aliens with radioactive laser beams. Dragon takes his job seriously, and on one occasion he gets spooked and shoots a tree, believing it to be an alien shapeshifted into vegetative form, but after closer inspection it was just a tree.
As you can imagine, this show is not only educational but quite entertaining, and frankly it’s not something you’d expect to see on the stuffy ole History Channel. In recent years the History Channel has really upped its historical game with all the focus on ancient aliens, who are much more interesting than their ancient human counterparts who sat around all day chipping away at stones and grunting. Recently, I’ve been trying to better myself by watching more mentally enriching TV like historical alien programming instead of mind-numbing TV like cable news, which spends too much talking about pointless politics and very little time on issues that are important to everyday Americans, like mysterious alien cattle mutilations.
After about fifteen minutes of watching “Skinwalker Ranch,” I experienced some paranormal activity of my own when the remote mysteriously disappeared and the TV suddenly switched to HGTV. My first thought was to blame my wife–but then I remembered the simplest solution is the most likely, meaning either interference from an extraterrestrial laser beam or my wife is an extraterrestrial shapeshifter.
Normally I’m a law abiding citizen. But whenever a law enforcement officer comes around, I’m a rebel without a cause, just breaking the law out of nervous impulses. My wife normally calls me “old pokey” when I’m driving, but let me glimpse a patrol car in the rearview mirror and suddenly I’m Mad Max. When officers finally pull me over for erratic maneuvers, they never believe me when I tell them it’s their fault.
ME: “Officer, I was driving quite responsibly until you got behind me, then I got all nervous.”
OFFICER: “Sir, you were swerving all over the place, I’m going to need you to exit the car. When was the last time you had anything to drink?”
ME: “Eleven years, if you count that one drink of champagne. Thirty-five otherwise.”
OFFICER: “Sir, your pupils are dilated.”
ME: “I think that’s just from fear.”
OFFICER: “I’m going to administer a field sobriety test. Sir, will you count backwards…”
I may be the only teetotaler in history who has had to walk the line multiple times. Thankfully, I passed the tests, but I will say that walking in a straight line toe-to-toe is a lot harder than you’d think when your freedom depends on it. The problem is that even when I’m innocent, I act guilty.
The Trial, by Kafka, is my worst nightmare. In the novel, an innocent man is arrested for an unknown reason. Then he spends the next year trying to discover why and prove his innocence. But his neurotic behavior makes everyone assume he’s guilty. Then, in depressing Kafka fashion (spoiler alert), he’s executed.
Just the thought of that plot sends shivers to my epidermis. Once I thought it was actually coming true. It was the night when a sheriff’s deputy pounded on my front door. For a moment before I opened the door, I thought, “What in the world have I done to get arrested?”
Turns out, I had just left a gate open, and my cows were standing in the middle of the road. But I don’t think my heart has ever fully recovered.
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I hate this time of year. You can hardly get around because all the backroads get clogged up with news vans parked on the roadside. Yep, every summer the media around here goes bonkers. You can more or less set your calendar by it: Around July 4th, you’ll see the first helicopters circling over pastures, getting fresh footage of cows loafing for the nightly news. Sometimes they’ll film a whole herd grazing a hillside, which is sure to spike ratings for the lead story, “Farmer Gored by Killer Bull: Second Attack in Two Weeks.” Sometimes they’ll even get shots of cows stampeding toward the feed bunk, in a so-called “feeding frenzy.” And when they’re really desperate, they’ll get a closeup of a steaming cow patty, as evidence that cows have been recently grazing the area.
Of course, the only thing this media-hype does is put a damper on our tourist season. In fact, last year I didn’t see a single tourist swimming in any local farm ponds, likely for fear of cows grazing the shores nearby. To try to re-attract visitors, Ed Johnson built a hydraulic Loch Ness Monster for his farm pond that surfaces every three hours and snorts steam, but even that gimmick hasn’t been able to drive tourists back into his pond water.
And that’s a real shame. It’s as if people don’t realize that cows are mostly harmless bovines. On average, they only kill twenty people in the United States per year, which is merely eight times higher than the number of people who die each year from shark attacks worldwide–and when was the last time you saw a news story on shark attacks? It’s a double standard if you ask me.
The sale barn, where livestock is bought, sold, and sometimes bartered in the parking lot, is your local hub for agricultural activity. It’s a good place to connect with other farmers—just don’t yawn or scratch your head because you might accidentally buy a cow. Such faux pas are common among newcomers to a stockyard.
As a child, perhaps you longed to be a professional sale-barn bidder. Or perhaps not. But in rural culture, it’s nearly as common a dream job as a cowboy, county agent, or veterinarian. Even full-grown adults, while listening to an auctioneer jabber endlessly, have been known to daydream about life as a high-profile livestock trader. Unfortunately, daydreaming is a sure sign you’re an amateur buyer. Professional buyers sit stoic in the crowd, impervious to the hypnotizing effect of an auctioneer’s voice, bidding with nearly imperceptible winks, head nods, and twitches. Rumor has it, the best sale-barn buyers can blink Morse code with their eyes.
Professional buyers are rock stars of rurality. After thundering into the parking lot with a livestock trailer capable of hauling a small herd of elephants, a professional moseys over to inspect the bovines while awestruck onlookers ask for autographs on bidding cards and advice on buying. The professional obliges, scribbling a pithy line like, “Buy low. Sell high—High Bid Hal.” Hal then enters the arena fashionably late and sits proudly in his reserved seat in direct line of sight of the auctioneer. Moments later, a murmur ripples through the crowd when Hal buys his first of many cows.
Of course, we all can’t be as suave as High Bid Hal, but I’ve studied his behavior and gleaned some helpful tips on how to resemble a professional sale-barn bidder and strike fear in your bovine buying competition. Follow these tips, and you’ll resemble a competent procurer of livestock in no time.
Do your homework
Don’t arrive at the sale barn and start buying willy-nilly. Although professionals do this, buying willy-nilly is considered an advanced technique that takes many years to master. Instead, spend time at your stockyard studying the process. Also, learn the markings. Often cows will be marked with spray paint or a sticker. Different colors represent different things. For instance, a red dot might mean “steer” or a yellow dot might mean “confirmed pregnant.” Thus, a red and yellow dot together would mean a confirmed pregnant steer, in which case you should buy that miraculous animal.
Show No Emotion
Don’t smile at the sale barn. Don’t make eye contact with humans. Such behavior is considered a sign of weakness. It’s best not to attempt jokes either, unless you’re the auctioneer who will likely impersonate a stand-up comic before the sale starts. Whatever you do, don’t laugh at the auctioneer’s jokes. The auctioneer is merely trying to loosen up the crowd to encourage bidding. But if you’ve done your homework, you’ve heard these jokes before. Auctioneers rarely come up with new material.
Walk the Catwalk
Strolling the catwalk is an essential job function for supermodels and sale-barn bidders alike. At a stockyard, the catwalk is the elevated walkway that allows you to view animals in the pens below. If you’re a sale-barn novice, practice your walk at home, especially if you’re afraid of heights. Many professional sale barn bidders prefer a mosey, though you can try a saunter or amble. Advanced sale-barn stars will often have a trademark “hitch in their gitty-up” that sets their walk apart from amateurs (If you’re a British farmer, please visit the Ministry of Silly Walks to search for trademarked hitches. America has no such regulatory body, so trademarked walks here mean nothing. If you don’t like Monty Python, please disregard the previous joke).
Have your bidding card ready:
Nothing says amateur like fumbling to find your bidding card, which contains your all-important bidder identification number. Livestock sales are fast paced. For instance, a typical cattle sale might go as follows:
“A good steer, who’ll give me a dollar fifty—fifty cents, fifty cents, fifty cents? Alright, dollar forty, looking for forty, looking for forty, looking for forty to start. That’s a good steer now. Someone start it. thirty-five cents, thirty-five, thirty-five, thirty-five, looking for thirty-five cents. THIRTY-FIVE—top right corner! Now forty, looking for forty, huhmana huhmana forty, huhmana huhmana forty. FORTY over here! Now forty-five, forty-five, forty-five, forty-five, forty-five, forty-five, looking for forty-five, looking for forty-five, looking for forty-five. Now looking for forty-two. Down low, FORTY-TWO! Now forty three, a dollar forty-three, dollar forty-three, dollar forty-three. That’s a good steer, good steer, good steer. Forty-three, looking for forty-three, huhmana huhmana huhmana forty three. FORTY-THREE—top right! Now forty-four, forty-four, forty-four, forty-four, forty-four, forty-four, huhmana huhmana forty-four looking for forty-four. Going once, going twice, sold FORTY-THREE! Top right corner!”
Though seemingly impossible, all this verbiage is uttered and the steer is sold in five seconds total. And the process is repeated instantaneously with another cow—if, that is, the previous buyer had his or her bidding card ready. If not, the whole auction comes to a jarring halt and people glare. Whatever you do, don’t get flustered and flash your card upside down—you’ll be laughed out of the arena. Though speed is important, it’s better to draw slow and shoot for accuracy than fall victim to vicious sale barn humor.
Having read these tips, you’ll soon achieve stockyard stardom. If in doubt, just remember: buy low, sell high. It’s that simple.