… or, How Dean Edwards Broke His Leg
After living in the “Cowboy Capital of the World” for over a decade, you’d think I would have developed an appreciation for Cowboys and their horses. Unfortunately it has taken until yesterday for me to ever see them in action -doing real work- instead of competing at a local arena.
Enter, the 1200lb monster cow. We’ll call her “Hamburger”, but that’s just because the things Dean usually calls her (or yells at her) aren’t particularly PG.
“Hamburger”. This is not your typical cow. That look in her eyes, yeah that’s actual fury and she has the beef to back it up.
Long before we planted peaches, my wife’s family has been raising and selling cattle. In the 300+ acres of family land that adjoins our orchard, there is nearly 100 head of cattle that are an ever present part of our daily lives. They make calves (babies), and then we sell all the young bulls (males) while swapping out some of the new younger cows (females) for the older cows that are past their prime. It’s a simple process that has been going on since Biblical times. In the last 5 or 6 years I have learned some of the ins and outs of cattle from my father in law Dean Edwards. Throughout all of it, this huge cow has been there watching me out of the corner of her eye.
As the story goes, when Hamburger was young, Dean was loading her into a trailer along with a bunch of other cows to take them to the cattle auction. This is a process of getting all the cattle into a large pen and slowly letting the ones you actually want to keep back into the pasture. For whatever reason she was going to the auction sale. Typically this isn’t a terribly eventful process, but little Hamburger decided she wasn’t going to get into the trailer and instead of getting into the trailer she crawled UNDER the trailer to freedom. This experience and those to follow made her exceptionally wary of everything going on around her.
The Texas Drought
Fast forward to 2011. The drought in Texas had taken a serious toll on available forage for the Edwards Farm cattle and it quickly became clear we would have to sell off the majority of the cows lest they starve to death. We would keep a small number of cattle so that in years to come we could rebuild the herd, but we had to choose carefully which ones we could keep because we couldn’t afford to have any unproductive cows. As luck would have it, in the years running up to this drought Hamburger had developed a serious mastitis of the udder that had made her entirely incapable of properly raising a calf on her own. She was at the top of the list of cows we wanted to sell off.
The severity of the drought was made worse for Edwards Farm because all of our forage depends entirely on rainwater to grow.
In the morning as three 40 foot goose neck cattle trailers rolled into the farm, we went down to the cattle pens and started putting out “cubes”. Cubes are basically a high protein diet supplement for cattle which Dean lovingly refers to as “Cow Cocaine”. The cows lose their minds when we start handing them out. Think “Scooby Snacks” for cows. It’s by far the easiest way to get all the cows where you want them to go which, in this case, is into the pens so we can sort them and load them onto the trailers.
Hamburger wasn’t having any of it. The moment she saw the trailers roll in she took off into the brush. While the rest of the herd was greedily munching away, Hamburger watched from the trees. That wasn’t to be the day she would be leaving us.
As the years rolled on, Hamburger managed to have several calves. Unfortunately because of the deformation of her udder due to the mastitis, she was completely incapable of supporting them. Try as they might the newborn calves simply couldn’t get their mouths around her swollen teats in order to feed. The result of this was an annual calf that had to be bottle fed lest it starve to death.
The baby “Hamburgers” were much nicer than their mother who would quickly abandon them.
This cycle of bearing calves and subsequently abandoning them continued for several years. Each time, the nutrients that Hamburger would normally have dispensed into her newborn burger spawn were retained which caused her to bulk up in mass significantly larger than the other cows in the herd. By the time 2016 rolled around, she easily rivaled the hulking bulls that were specifically bred and chosen for their large size. With an attitude to match her massive weight, this cow started to become more and more of a concern around the farm. It wasn’t just her temperament that was a concern. Her flightiness at the sight of a cattle trailer had started to rub off on some of the other cows on the farm.
Hamburger can easily be picked out in a picture of the herd as her size continued to increase with every year.
Round 2, FIGHT!
Dean decided that we would make an concerted effort to pen up Hamburger so that we could load and sell her. The plan consisted of a larger pen, several mineral blocks, and a brand new cattle prod. Because standard hay forage doesn’t supply all of the trace minerals a cow needs, mineral lick blocks are typically strewn around the farm so that cattle can access and consume them as necessary. In this case, Dean and I built a large pen that was attached to the main loading pens and put the mineral blocks into the newly constructed pen.We built and baited to the trap, and then walked away from it. Day by day we would check on the hamburger trap to see if she had taken the bait and every time we were disappointed ….until sometime in September 2016.
The phone rang early that morning as Dean excitedly told me he had caught Hamburger in the new pen and closed her in. I immediately put on my work boots and drove out to see for myself. Sure enough, Hamburger was milling around in the new pens along with about 30 other cows. Dean had shut the gate to the pen and told me to watch them as he quickly ran to hook up the cattle trailer to the pickup truck. As the cattle trailer bounced and squeaked down the hill, it seemed to start to dawn on Hamburger that she had been trapped in a pen. We quickly backed up the cattle trailer to the loading shoot as she pressed her way to the back of the pen. Her wild eyes told the story going on in her head. She wanted out.
Dean grabbed the brand new cattle prod he had purchased just for this occasion and we proceeded to try and direct her into the loading shoot. Each time Hamburger would get to the end of the loading shoot, she would stop dead at the opening of the trailer, turn around and run back out just a little bit more crazy than the last time. After about the 6th attempt, she decided she was done. She made a dash for the exit gate. What happened next boggles the mind. She flew. All 1200 lbs of her lifted up into the air and she jumped over the gate. Of course cows aren’t terribly aerodynamic so she immediately returned to the earth, crushing the brand new gate underneath her and ripping apart the wire we had used to secure it closed.
The crumpled wreckage left behind following the inaugural flight of Edwards Farm Jumbo Cow “Hamburger” – Flight 101
As Hamburger made her way out of the destroyed pen her temperament changed from insane and loosing her mind, to calm and matter of fact. She walked out without even looking back as Dean and I gawked at the carnage and resigned ourselves to another defeat. In hindsight we were probably blessed to have left the experience with our lives.
Enter the Cowboy
Weeks passed. Every time we went to check on the cows we would look Hamburger in the eyes and curse the day she was born. Our leering gaze was returned to us with similar distaste. She continued to consume resources while providing nothing in return except insurrection within the ranks of her peers. It wasn’t uncommon to find her with her own “sub herd” that appeared to stay with her while the rest of the main herd continued off on their own. She was a problem without an answer. We had resigned ourselves to the fact that we might be better off shooting her and leaving her for the coyotes … but that isn’t how the story ended.
As luck would have it, Dean’s 30+ years at Morgan Mill serving as the superintendent had made him many friends. One of those friends was Dustin, and Dustin … well he’s a real cowboy. When he heard about Hamburger, Dustin quickly offered to come out with his horse and dogs and get Hamburger loaded onto a trailer. Dean texted me the night before and told me what was going down first thing in the morning. I quickly set an alarm in my phone and thoughtfully named it “The Cow Show is Starting”.
I’m not going to lie. I turned to my wife and told her I thought this cowboy was going to be in way over his head the next morning.
When 7am rolled around, the sun hadn’t even come out yet. I grabbed a flashlight and I my Canon camera before jumping into our UTV and setting off in the chilly morning air headed for Dean’s house. I didn’t even make it up his driveway before he met me coming down the driveway in his brand new, red Ford F150 pickup. We quickly set off together to get the cattle trailer hooked up to it. It took only a couple minutes of fumbling with a flashlight to take the trailer off Dean’s father’s old truck and hook it up to Dean’s truck. All we had to do was air up the tires on the trailer and we were ready. In fact, we had barely even finished putting air in tires when, as if on cue, Dustin turned the corner with his horse and dogs in tow. The show was about to start.
A Horse, A Dog, A Cowboy, and Two Ropes
What transpired over the next hour was …. well words almost cant describe it. If a picture is worth 1000 words, I imagine a video is worth even more. The skill and calm of this Cowboy left me in awe. Before you press play, be prepared to turn down the volume if barking dogs aren’t your thing.
I hope it’s clear just by watching that video and seeing this pictures just how well Dustin handled this monster cow. He and his horse slowly wore her endurance down while his dog unloaded a barrage of barking and assistance.
The broken leg…
Unfortunately the story didn’t end here. Loading Hamburger into the trailer should have been a cinch at this point if not for the lifetime of trailers she had seen and learned to both fear and escape. She utterly refused to step foot in the trailer. A nipping dog, a pair of cattle prods, and 2 strong ropes were not sufficient to convince her that she had been beaten. Instead she took all 1200lbs of her beefy butt and sat down outside the entrance to the trailer.
Even the dog was at a loss for bark at this point.
Dustin continued on in confidence telling us to tie the main rope off in the trailer while he and his incredible horse applied a constant pressure on the rope around her neck. With great skill Dustin rode the thin line between applying leverage on Hamburger’s will to stay outside the trailer and the necessary amount of slack to allow oxygen to keep her conscious. He continued to wear her down until she made one last ditch effort to escape. In one sudden movement Hamburger left Dean with a parting gift. Standing up she whipped her weight around, slamming into the trailer’s rear gate and
kicking head butting him in the leg. As Dean fell to the ground from the force of the kick and the gate hitting him, the rope tied off in the trailer held true and kept her from continuing on towards him. The rage in her eyes was incredibly real. She stared at him as if she would kill him given the chance.
As Dean patiently lay in the pasture with his leg broken, Dustin was able to finish loading Hamburger into the trailer by tying off the rope and taking up the slack every time she would give some. In the last moments the monster cow seemed to have resigned herself to having at least achieved a moral victory as she settled into the back of the cattle trailer. I would later ask Dean how he felt about it and he told me that he was “Having a hard time deciding whether or not he had won”. It’s a fair point if you ask whether or not it would have been easier to just shoot her in the head and avoid breaking a leg.
By the end of the day Hamburger was successfully delivered to the Dublin Livestock Auction house for the weekly cattle auction that would take place the next afternoon.
We would find out later that the cow fractured Dean’s tibia near the knee. I don’t have the exact x-rays, but the fracture was described much like this one pictured here. Who would have guessed that the little calf he had tried to load years ago would turn into this incredible monster that could impart so much damage so fast.
I drove through the pasture today to check on the cows while Dean rests at home waiting for the Dr the decide whether or not he needs surgery. It was an odd feeling looking out over the cows and knowing that Hamburger was finally gone. In a weird way she had almost become part of the essence of the Edwards Farm. When I think about it now, she was always the cow we would point out to friends and family who came to visit. She was the special cow who had a story. I’m not sorry she’s gone though. I suppose it’s better she left having only imparted a broken leg instead of doing much worse. Sooner or later we’ll get back to the normal calm day to day here and move forward having learned a valuable lesson about both cows and cowboys.
Next time you eat a hamburger, do us a favor. Look that hamburger in the eye and tell it that we won.