When General Patton, the orphaned calf, came through the line for his ear tag, vaccinations, and brand, I got to see the whole process firsthand. We had met Patton this summer while we were painting the fence around his pasture. Who knew, when we came to Texas, that we would get to know a cow by name? He was still being bottle fed then, and would nudge us for attention. His puppyish ways were somewhat cute, until he got up over 200 pounds. He seems to have adjusted perfectly to life in the herd since then.
Patton was calm when we were walking the herd toward the collection of fences that will help us sort and separate the cattle. I was surprised how easily the process went. The rancher and his wife informed me that if the cattle are raised humanely, and the herd kept safe, they are much more cooperative than wild or formerly mistreated animals. Patten did not bawl and buck when he was going through the line, he did not appear uncomfortable with the brand on his already thick hide, and we had to coax him out of the chute after the gate was opened after he was done. He seemed to enjoy his surrogate momma’s extra attention. Then next calf bounced and bounded through the half-closed gate behind Patten, scampering around until it settled on a patch of green grass. She was easily coaxed back later with a handful of others who had already gotten their vaccinations, and soon she was finished too. I stood corrected, having imagined something more barbaric than the calm business we were witnessing on the ranch today.
The size of the herd required us working until just after dark, where I saw the brand, specially designed for this family ranch, glowing. I could see the pride they took in their healthy herd, and their respectable practices. I felt privileged to see them at work, and even more so when they asked me to put down my camera and join the labor.
At first, I had no idea when to do my job, and needed a few reminders. As time went on, our teamwork became more effective. Because even bystanders inside the fence might get in a dangerous situation – Communication was vitally important to working together. Each of us got better at our individual tasks and also improved at watching the others for visual cues. Soon, even a green hand like me was prepared for the next round and cleaning up quickly to reset again after the last. On my usual work teams, I had learned many verbal and written skills to communicate better, but this job was a milestone in non-verbal communication. I would like to thank the cows for teaching me this, before I noticed the non-verbal cues of my human coworkers, because their bovine attitudes and understanding of our goals were so important to our team’s success.