Barnyard Basics: Unusual cattle predicaments

Courtesy of Heather Smith Thomas
Hornless Fatty survived her skiing accident and ambulance sled ride and gave birth to her calf a few weeks later.

Heather Thomas

EDITOR’S NOTE: This is the first of two parts about a predicaments our cattle have gotten into.

Cattle sometimes get into trouble without even trying. Sometimes it is serious trouble, but other times it’s just plain humorous. We’ve seen some crazy situations.

There’s the usual stuff — a calf getting baling twine around its neck or an electric fence wire wrapped around a leg and you have to chase him all over the pasture to get it off, a cow getting a tin can stuck on her foot or a curious critter with a nose-full of porcupine quills. But some cattle are more innovative about their predicaments and you have to become innovative to get them out of those.

One year, a cow got stuck in a bog, sunk in past her belly, and the way we got her out was to put a big sheet of plywood on top of the mud and roll her up onto it. There was no way to hook onto her to pull her out without seriously injuring her.

Many years ago, one of our Hereford cows named Hornless Fatty slipped on an icy hillside and slid all the way to the bottom. Her hind legs spraddled out and she couldn’t get up. We found her the next morning when we went to feed, and by that time she was chilled and temporarily paralyzed. We went back to the barnyard and dug an old hay slip out of the snow, pulled it up to the field behind the Jeep, rolled her onto it and tied her to it — and gave Hornless Fatty a sled ride 2 miles to get her home and into the barn. She recovered and gave birth 3 weeks later to a nice healthy calf.

Then there was Quicksie (named because she always calved quickly), who was missing one spring morning when we fed the cows. Looking for her in the brush, I found her with her head stuck between two trees. She’d been there all night; there was a pile of manure behind her. She had apparently rubbed on the trees to itch her neck, down low where the trunks were wider apart. But when she lifted her head she was stuck! She hadn’t been able to figure out how to put her head back down toward the ground to get free. We were afraid to saw down one of the trees for fear of hurting her, so we got a big winch and pulled one tree a couple inches to the side, so she could pull her head out.

We had another “stuck between trees” episode when a calf was missing in our upper pasture. We found her when we went searching through the brush. At least she was smaller than Quicksie, and easier to wrestle around into a position to get her loose.

About 12 years ago, our son, Michael, and his wife and kids were trying to get a cow into the corral. She ran the wrong way in the barnyard and ducked into the straw stack and thought she could escape between two big bales. She didn’t realize the stacked bales were closer together on the back end, so the farther she went, the tighter she got wedged. We realized she was stuck when she tried to back out, and couldn’t.

It looked like we’d have to start a tractor and move some of the bales to extricate her, but our grandson, Nick, squeezed in between the tight bales at the other end and worked his way to the cow’s head. He gave her such a startle that she put all her energy in reverse and managed to get unstuck, backing out of the crevice between the bales.

One of our rancher friends had a “stuck critter” episode that didn’t end so well. He had a lame bull in the home pasture where he was stacking hay. The bull went into the stack yard while the rancher was getting his next load, and the rancher didn’t see him in there and finished stacking hay. When the bull turned up missing, they searched the whole ranch and didn’t find him — until they found his carcass in the middle of the haystack the next spring, as they were loading hay to feed their cows.

Heather Smith Thomas and her husband raise beef cattle and horses on a ranch in the mountains near Salmon. To contact her or order her books — which include “Horse Tales,” “Cow Tales” and “Ranch Tales” — call 208-756-2841 or email