“Don’t rock the cow. Don’t rock the cow baby. Don’t rock the cow. You’ll knock the cow over!”
That was the song mom was singing as I tried to roll Bessie into a kneeling position so that I could pull the sling under her again for the fifth time. The bits that I could see of the bright yellow material stood in stark contrast with her black hide. Bessie was uncooperative. She refused to help me by shifting her bulky cow body. The dense bones of her legs were nearly impenetrable barriers to my progress. They were almost as bad as the rest of her. Sprawled out on top of the sling like a sunbather. She simply stared at me, contentedly chewing her cud as I struggled with the most important one sided game of tug of war I have yet played.
My muttered curses melded in unholy harmony with mom’s music. “You could help me, you know? I can’t get this God forsaken thing to move!” Well, then Bess moved, but only to try to butt my leg out from under me with her raspy black nose. Cows have it out for me. First Buttercup, now Bessie. Maybe I should be more specific; ancient semi-paralyzed cows have it out for me.
Secretly, I believe they feel that killing me will extend their considerable life spans. That is the only possible explanation. Well, that and I keep giving the cute names. And they are pretty much left alone except when they are being fed, rounded up, or are on their deathbeds. So they’re wild cows of the plains! And maybe I try to pet them. Maybe I get some sort of thrill after facing a cow and living. It’s exhilarating.
Or at least it is when the cow is responsive. Bessie had not responded to all of the petting, coaxing, begging that mom and I could come up with except to begin licking and rubbing on my mom like a lovesick puppy. And the repeated head butts at me, but at least she wasn’t as hateful as Buttercup. After two weeks of vet checks, meds, and repeated bouts in the sling being carried by tractor from delectable grazing patch to delectable grazing patch she seemed to have decided that she either didn’t care to try to live anywhere except that spot anymore, or that her personal attendants would figure it out and she needn’t bother herself with such pesky details as standing on her own.
To be fair she had done very well in the early weeks of her decline. Dad had found her alone and stuck in the lake three times, having to wade into the recently swollen waters himself to try to pull her close enough to shore to use the tractor. It was a drought that year, and the first good rain brought all of the dust and debris with it into the quagmire of the lake bottom. He sludged forth valiantly fighting the muck with every step. Feeling it slide up his pant legs and through his socks. After several agonizing strides he met the cow face to face. She mooed at him plaintively. Her big brown eyes reflecting her distress. He maneuvered to her side, hoping to rock her free of the sludge clinging to her quickly cooling limbs. Slosh, slosh, slosh, he was nearly in position when the next step had no purchase. He slipped into a unknown hole up to his chest and was faced with a big black cow side of doom. The cow thrashed and the weight of his position sank in. If she fell over he would drown, pinned under a cow in the murky depths. With fear induced, God given strength he pushed the cow free of her muddy prison. The next two times were a repeat of the same, save that he knew the wily cow’s tricks and avoided the pit trap. Finally when we found her down outside of the lake we knew enough was enough.
She was down near the electric fence, which was working well. It was my parent’s anniversary. Time was short. Dad and I worked in haste to get her maneuvered into the sling. We worked too fast, because I nearly electrocuted myself on the fence while I was dragging the chain into position. Despite my near death experience, it wasn’t too bad. She worked with us, presumably trying to attack dad with her face so her body wasn’t actually impeding the movement of the sling most of the time as she repeatedly launched herself at him. We debated setting her free again when we saw she could stand of her own accord, but decided given her past history that we had to bring her up because the end was near and cow hospice had to commence.
That was how I found myself pulling for life and death on a tiny green strap, begging Bessie to help me to help her get the bright yellow sling in position. Mom stopped her song and added her strength to the fight. By our combined effort we got the sling under her. We quickly secured it with baling twine so it could not fall off again and raised her up with the front end loader so blood could flow to her feet. She seemed content; nosing through grass, hay, and cracked corn with reckless abandon. So we left her once more semi suspended with enough weight on her legs so that she could stand, but enough support that she couldn’t fall. It seemed an idyllic solution until the inevitable happened: I needed to use the tractor for something else.
We tried to lower her, but her Majesty was in a mood. She would not be standing of her own accord today, thank you very much. No matter how much we pleaded and massaged as soon as her weight was her own burden she crumpled to the ground like a broken building. What could we do? She seemed happy. She seemed to have quality of life. Should we end it for her? One look into her eyes and we decided no. There had to be another solution.
But what? What could give her support and blood flow besides the tractor? Then inspiration stuck like a bolt of lightning across the clear blue sky. We wedged square bales between her legs so that she was straddling them. She reached down to take a bite of hay between from between her legs. The thought of, “This could work.” echoed though our minds.
Little did we know that nature’s duplicity was about to strike. As we unhooked her she seemed to steady for a moment. Was that nervousness in her eyes, or just a trick of the rapidly darkening light? Slowly she began sliding from her hay bale throne in a bizarre parody of a slowly sinking ship. “Mayday! Mayday!” I screamed. “B1 is down! Repeat B1 is down!” What could we do? I ran over and braced myself against her, but there was only so long I could hold her up. A thousand pounds of cow is a lot to wedge yourself against, even when physics is on your side. Mom came running up carrying a four by four post. We propped her up and studied the situation. It looked like it would hold. We waited long minutes with baited breath. The low rumble of the tractor was a dramatic counterpoint to our thoughts. Finally we deemed it structurally sound.
I raced to the tractor and leapt into the water filled seat. Muttered curses and pissed off moos resounded through my ears. The other cows were not pleased with my tardiness. I moved hay quickly, a combination of the herd’s displeasure and knowing our stop gap solution wasn’t a permanent one motivating me to speed. Did I make it? No, I pulled up just in time to watch majestic queen Bessie sink from her throne and happily begin pulling up grass. I parked the tractor and walked inside, defeated.
I had just failed Cow Propping 101.