Granddad says ranching is one of those things that brings a person closer to God. One of his favorite examples is watching our heifers (cows that have never calved) out in the pasture. They are frisky little things, running around like they don’t have a care in the world. Then they calve, and immediately their first thought is to protect their baby. They get their baby up, they clean it, make sure it nurses, and they keep it safe. Nobody tells them to do this; they just know. It is an instinct they are born with. It is ingrained into their very being to care for their calves.
This is not to say that a few first-time mothers don’t need an extra hand figuring things out. It is common for cows to go find a protected spot in the trees off by themselves to calve. But we once had a heifer who missed the point: she calved up in the front of the pasture then went and hid in the trees by herself, leaving the calf in the front! We found a slimy, hungry baby all alone. We got the cow up and penned her with the baby so she would bond with it. When we reunited them she was thrilled to see her baby and she licked him enthusiastically! She had the right idea to hide and calve, but got a little mixed up in the order of things! This happens with first-time mothers sometimes, but most of our heifers have been great mothers from the get-go. When these first-time mothers calve, we usually can tell when they are close and we trade off checking on them every few hours during the night to make sure everything is going all right. I love having a cow-calf operation and seeing the new life. Watching the babies frolic in the sunshine is one of my favorite things! This is one of the reasons I paint cattle. I love this way of life! This is another one of Circle C’s cows and she looks like she is going to have her baby any minute. I’m sure she will have a strong maternal instinct, caring for and protecting her calf.
My sisters and I have always loved to listen to my granddad tell about his life ranching in east Texas. He tells about the cattle he has had and everything he has seen in his eighty-six years in the agricultural industry. Over the years Granddad has tried many different breeds of cattle—it’s not easy to thrive in the heat of Texas. He once tried a Brahman bull to put on his commercial cows. Brahman’s are known for their heat tolerance, hardiness and maternal instinct—and also big ears and a hump between their shoulders. Granddad picked up the new Brahman bull from the local sale barn in Paris, Texas. He said this bull was a good, stout fellow and he put him with the cows. The next day he was straightening troughs and walking around the cows, when the bull spotted him. Immediately, the bull started towards him. Startled by being greeted with such enthusiasm, and unsure of the behemoth’s intentions, Granddad stepped behind the nearest tree. The bull kept coming. When he was about a yard away from Granddad’s hiding spot, he abruptly stopped and put his head down. Granddad reached around the tree and started scratching him. The bull apparently loved being scratched because he promptly laid down right then and there. He turned out to be really gentle. Anytime a person would scratch him, especially when they scratched him behind his ears, he would just flop over! Granddad said he would drive the feed truck in the pasture and the bull would run up to the truck and try and stick his head in the window. If someone would scratch him from the window, he would lay down right beside the truck. My aunt and uncle were really little at the time and they loved that. They would jump out of the truck and want to feel his hump. Granddad said they were mesmerized by the bull’s hump.
Even though this bull was gentle in the pasture, he was like a whole different animal in the corral. You didn’t want to shut the gate on him. At that time, our corrals and alleys were all wooden planks. Granddad had gotten the cattle up, gotten them penned, and the next thing he knew, his bull had crashed through and broken the corral’s wooden gate. After having this bull for a while, he realized he wasn’t getting any Brahman calves, and had to sell the bull. Since the bull wouldn’t stay in the corral, Granddad had to park the trailer in the pasture and lure him inside with a bucket of feed to get him captured. He began pouring a bucket of feed in the trailer and the bull just walked right in to have his supper. All Granddad had to do was close the gate and hauled him to town. Though he was disappointed not to have any calves from that bull, he really enjoyed his personality and being around such a character.
The bull in the painting is one that our neighbors at Circle C Ranch have, and they were gracious enough to let me get a picture of him. He was fun to paint with his long ears and superior expression. We have found that Brahman influenced cattle are great for our area because they can stand the heat, and now we use the Brahman-influenced Brangus cattle for our registered and commercial herds.
The banana horned cow was my sister’s cow. Granddad got each of us girls a cow when we were young and every time those cows calved he sold the calves and put the money into a savings account for each of us to help pay for college. Tanessa’s cow actually got struck by lightning, but before she died she had her one and only heifer. So that calf, which grew up to be the banana horned cow (we just referred to her as Banana Horn), replaced her mother for Tanessa’s college fund. She was a really good mother; she loved her babies, always weaning heavy calves. We hoped before she got too old she would have a heifer to replace her, but year after year she had bull calves. That was great for Tanessa’s college fund, but not so good for her commercial herd to grow. Tanessa is about to graduate college with a degree in English literature and thanks to Banana Horn, she was able to do a study abroad in Oxford, England, for a semester.
We are so fortunate to have such a generous grandfather. It’s neat to see the results of his planning!
“A grayish brindle cow with up-right horns: that’s what your grandma’s Bicycle Cow looked like.”
I think this painting might resemble the cow my granddad was referring to. Bicycle Cow descended from a line of cows that had survived the flood of 1908 when the Red River jumped its banks and hundreds of cattle and other livestock were lost. This particular cow’s grandmother had managed to reach higher ground when the river flooded. The cattle stood in water up to their knees, but they survived. I like to imagine that Bicycle Cow’s grandmother was the hero and led the other cows up the hill to safety, but who knows what really happened. Grandma’s Bicycle Cow was from a long line of survivors that is for sure.
Granddad likes to tell the story of how Bicycle Cow got her name, the day that Grandma was bringing water to him while he was fixing the fence. “I saw your grandma head into the pasture,” Granddad recalls, “and about the time she came through the gate, our horned cow saw her, too. From the look on the cow’s face she had never in her life seen a woman on a bicycle and she had certainly never seen one in her pasture. That cow stood on her tiptoes, head raised, smelling the air. She headed to where your Grandma had just gotten back on her bike. When she looked up and saw the cow coming her direction, she abandoned the bicycle and climbed over the fence, letting the cow have a good long look at the bike up close and personally, while she stood on the road.” Ever since Grandma gave her bike to the cow, they always called the cow Grandma’s Bicycle Cow.
That cow is long gone, but we still ranch and patch fence. My sisters and I are the fourth generation to run cattle here. Currently we raise registered Brangus and commercial cattle. I am blessed to live this life I love: ranching and making art.