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Reflections from the SwampWannabe Cattle Rancher

Wannabe Cattle Rancher

Reflections from the Swamp
Richard van Duyvendyk

Dear Reader

Due to the stratospheric success of “Wannabe Sheep Farmer,” (I’m not bragging much, but I got four hits on Facebook!) I’ve decided to write a few more stories about my lack of success in farming. There is an endless well of opportunity here since almost all of my farming exploits ended in catastrophic disasters.

One fan wrote to tell me that she enjoyed my” self-defecating “humour. I couldn’t see any self-defecating humour in my story, so I started writing a piece about when I got stuck in traffic on The Queensway. Nature urgently called me to make a major contribution now! We all have to listen to the call of Nature.

Fortunately, my bride noticed that I, like my faithful reader, had difficulty discerning between self- defecating and self-deprecating humour and saved me from revealing an episode in my life that would involve both. Consider yourselves lucky to have missed this foray. Instead, this story returns to my area of expertise, namely that of being a Wannabe farmer.

After learning that sheep need a fenced-in area, we started collecting rolls of used fence wire strewn around the countryside like paper cups in roadside ditches that are free to the undiscerning wannabe rancher. Some rolls had breaks in the wiring that required mending. After a couple of years, we had a quilt work of fencing held together with binder twine, coathangers, and electrical wire that could successfully contain a few sheep that weren’t prone to rubbing up against fences. Neighbours called it a wiggly-piggly fence, an endearing term unique to our farm. Cattle are noticeably heavier than sheep and require sturdier barriers than sheep. You, dear reader, probably knew that.

Our four squirrelly children and ourselves used to sit directly in front of Mr. Maxwell Sr. during mass at St. Isadore. If someone else sat in our spot by chance, we’d tell them politely but firmly to move. Mr. Maxwell scared the fidgetiness out of our kids and would regularly poke them if they talked or wiggled too much. Soon they were as well trained as circus elephants. We had the best-behaved kids in all of Christiandom for one hour every week. I imagined a stained glass window dedicated to our holy family. Sometimes when we were planning family outings, I suggested that we call Mr. Maxwell, go to church, and quietly meditate for an hour. I don’t recall the kids ever condoning this suggestion, but I am getting somewhat forgetful.

Mr. Maxwell had that gravitas that our children respected. Maxwell’s son was a cattleman about my age, so I approached him for advice about getting into the cattle business after moving to Corkery. My knowledge of investing in mutual funds or bonds was sketchy, so I opted for stock. He told me about a cattle auction at Daly’s place next weekend. Daly and I often drove to our teaching jobs in Ottawa together, so I knew where he lived.

Add this event to your bucket list if you’ve never been to a cattle auction. Auctions have an array of characters and bidding styles and contain volumes of stories. I arrived late, wearing a brand new cowboy hat to enhance the illusion that I knew what I was doing, and found Maxwell Junior just as the “pregnant cow with calf” category commenced. Cattle prices fluctuate like oil and grain prices, depending on consumer demand. Cattle prices were lower than usual. Pregnant cows with calves were going for $600 or $700. After letting several cows go without bidding, Maxwell saw a cow and calf that he figured would go for $500. “Don’t bid more than $500,” he said. I briefly thought of calling my bride to see how she felt about getting a cow. Ah, I knew she would love it! She eventually fell in love with our sheep, so cows were a no-brainer.

I asked Maxwell if he knew the make of the black cow. He said she mainly looked like an Angus but had the build of a Holstein. Her brown calf may have been part Jersey but could be part Kangaroo for all he knew! The bidding stumbled along until it stopped at $460. I started bidding in earnest until I reached $500. No one increased the bid, so I was declared the winner with a quick,” Sold to the guy with the clean white cowboy hat.”

This story is just getting started. You’ll have to wait for the main body of the story until next week. To finish the story, for now, I’d like to introduce you to some folklore that had been circulating around Corkery about our cows.

In 1968, during the Mexico City Olympics, Dick Fosbury from Oregan won the high jumping event by developing a back-layout style he had dubbed the Fosbury Flop. This technic replaced the Western Roll and is now the only way to jump.

At about the same time, the Finns developed a new breed of cows for high-jumping. In 2001, a cow jumped 7feet(2.1 metres) at the Bovine Agility Exhibition in Helsinki. Rumours circulated that genes from Impalas, which can jump 24.2 ft high, had been introduced into cattle, making them the highest jumping cattle in the world. These rumours were probably false. I think genes from a red kangaroo, which can jump 44.2 ft, were used.

Several Helsinki cows imported into Canada during the 1980s and 90s found their way into cattle ranches, including the Ottawa Valley. Cow-high-jumping as a sport never took off in Canada. These “Fosbury” cows didn’t have the beef-to-bone ratio found in other breeds. Cattlemen didn’t like that these cows could jump almost any fence using their “Fosbury’s Flop” jumping technique.

As a result, cows that displayed high-jumping traits, such as the “Helsinki Fosburies,” were sold to unsuspecting wannabe cattle ranchers at auctions.

Many of these ranchers had clean new, never worn before cowboy hats.

Now that you know what to expect about our “Fosbury” cows, next week’s story will include many novel techniques for catching the elusive Corkery cow.

Until next week, best wishes, and keep your cows well fenced in.

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