We worked the cattle twice a year, in early April and then-mid September. Each time we would have to bring all the cattle up from the pasture, pen them and work them one at a time. “Working cattle” meant different things depending on what each one needed.
Some things were standard; for example, in the fall we would give each one of them a vitamin A, D, E shot. They needed the Vitamin A because they would run out of green grass about this time and they would store the Vitamin A in the liver for use all during the winter months. The vitamin shot was given using a large hypodermic needle. I would draw the proper amount and give them a shot in the muscle of the flank.
Frequently, we would also worm them. This required the use of a balling gun. This stainless steel instrument consisted of a long rod about 8 to 10 inches long with a plunger on the end to discharge the worming pill. After putting the large pill on the end of the rod I would insert the rod along the side of the cow’s mouth and slide it down deep into her throat. Then I would press the plunger and deposit the pill and retract the gun.
In order to do this, I would insert my thumb in one nostril and my fingers in the other so that I could lift her head and cause her to open her mouth wide enough to insert the gun. After depositing the pill I had to continue to hold her nose and put my other arm around her head to hold her jaws closed until I felt her swallow the pill. If you did not do this she would usually spit it out and you would have to repeat the entire process.
I would then dust them for flies and check them for cuts, eye infections or any other needs. That gives you an idea of the process and you can see it was very labor intensive. Considering you were working several hundred cows, it did take some time and effort. At the end of each day you did not have any trouble sleeping.
I usually did not do this alone. I had several hands who worked for me. Of course Jessie was always there; another long timer was an old cowboy named Pete McLain. Pete gave me a compliment I have never forgotten. It was a lesson on earning respect as a manager of people. One spring it started raining after Pete and I got a bunch of cattle up in the pens. We had to go ahead and work them to get them back to pasture rather than keep them penned up for several days. There was a lot of mud created as the rain came down pretty steady while we worked.
The cattle got muddy as we moved them from pen to pen and into the chute. It took about six hours of steady work in the rain to finish. When we finished, we looked at one another and we were mud from head to toe. I grinned at Pete because he was a mess and he said, “I’ll say one thing by God, you would never ask a man to do anything you wouldn't do yourself.” I did not answer but I appreciated the comment and never did forget it in my next 25 year of supervising people. For my grandchildren and great grandchildren, remember, you can be given authority but you have to earn respect.
Photo of cow being dosed found here.
Photo of muddy cows found here.