Barnyard Basics: More cattle predicaments

Courtesy of Heather Smith Thomas
Heather Thomas changing the bandage on Star Bright's broken foot.

Heather Smith Thomas

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

Cattle are always getting caught in things. Riding range one summer, my daughter Andrea and I found one of our neighbor’s cows with a hind leg caught in a coyote snare, secured to a fence post. She’d been there a couple days and was gaunt and thirsty. Our daughter, Andrea, quietly went up behind her on the other side of the fence and carefully unhooked the snare cable.

Our cow named Star Bright (daughter of Starlight) got her foot caught in a neighbor’s home-made cattle guard. Struggling to get free, she ripped the horn shell off one toe, leaving exposed bone.

We found her hobbling along the road and brought her home. In the chute, we washed up the stub, applied antibiotic ointment and a bandage to keep it clean. We put her and her calf in our back yard (clean and grassy) so she wouldn’t get the bandage too dirty. We changed the bandage every few days for several weeks and the bone healed and she grew a new horn shell on the toe.

One of the weirdest predicaments was when a yearling steer rubbed on the corral gate. My husband, Lynn, noticed the steer spending a lot of time in the gate corner but didn’t think much about it until he drove by that gate on his way to load hay and saw the steer was still there.

He was caught by the nose, on the end of the gate chain. There is an S-shaped curve on the end of the chain, for hooking it through another link. The steer must have sniffed the chain and got the curved part into his nostril. When he pulled back, the end of the hook made a hole through his nose and there he was, caught like a fish on a fishhook. He soon realized it hurt worse to pull back than to stand there.

Lynn and I put a rope around his neck to pull him toward the gatepost, since our presence was scary and he pulled back, making it impossible to unhook him. I pushed on his rear end to hold him still while Lynn got enough slack in the chain to take the hook out. He was glad to be free and the hole through the side of his nostril healed quickly.

The funniest predicament was a calf with a stove stuck on his head. It was an old Ashley heater, in the barnyard of a ranch we were leasing. The curious calf put his head inside the open stove door and when he pulled back, the rusty bottom gave way and the top part of the stove came with him; he was wearing it like a huge bonnet. Lynn came through that barnyard about the time the other cattle discovered the “monster” among them. They were staring at the bonneted calf with curiosity and alarm. The calf’s mother was quite upset when he approached her!

The calf wondered why all his buddies were avoiding him; they snorted and ran off. Lynn tried to sneak up to grab the stove, but even though the calf couldn’t see Lynn he could hear him. Lynn couldn’t keep from laughing — the calf was so funny wearing his stove bonnet. This alerted the calf, who moved out of reach. Lynn came home to get me. Our plan was for me to try to distract the calf (who could still see a little, directly out the front) while Lynn sneaked up close enough to rope him or the bonnet.

But we didn’t have to use the rope. As Lynn started his sneak, a jet flew over and made so much noise the calf couldn’t hear Lynn or his muffled laughter, and Lynn was able to get close enough to grab the stove. The calf rushed backward, the stove came off his head and he was free. Hiss worried mama was no longer afraid of her monster son and came rushing over to make sure he was OK.

We still laugh about that experience, and I wish I’d thought to take my camera along when I went to help get the stove off that calf’s head. A picture would have been priceless!

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