FDNY, part 1
By Bill Stork, DVM
Whether you are Jed Hirschi herding 400 head of beef cattle across 90,000 acres of Wyoming on a Quarter Horse named Torque, or Ellen Messmer walking 18 Holstein dairy cows into a stanchion barn with a leather boot lace, moving cattle is a form of performance art. With a half step left, and a hand waved low, we steer the 1200lb ruminants, convincing them that’s where they were planning to go anyhow. Calm as a yoga session in a mountain town.
Every cowboy and dairyman (and woman) has their own pet phrases and endearing style. Clem “the friendly monster” calls ‘em “Camels”, Mr. Behm refers to his “Kids”. Many do it well, but none with more color than Brian Zabel.
For Brian, every milking was an Oscar-worthy performance in the category of “Spoken Word”. Like a turn of the century European cattle drover meets Howlin’ Wolf, he would start low and moan, politely suggesting it was time to get up and be milked. He'd nudge them up from their 4-foot sand stalls like Billy Mays pitching the Cham-Wow: “C’mon now ladies, it’s time to go to work!”
Singly and in groups of three, they filed into the cow alley, Brian and herd swaying in unison. They ambled and chewed while he commentated. Like Pavarotti doing play-by-play, “It’s cold out here, and warm in there” he projected from his diaphragm. Holding on to the “cold” and “warm” for a full four beats, he’d turn the words down, then up.
In a barnyard baritone that could rattle a foot of snow off a tin roof, “There’s some country music on the radio and a nice lady with soft hands. She’ll clean you up and milk you out,” as if they understood every hard Germanic consonant.
“I got some silage, second crop and a little high-moisture corn. I’ll throw it in the mixer and have breakfast ready when y’all get done,” he bargained. “How’s that sound?” searching for approval. About then, one would turn his way to lick her flank and swish. “Alright now ma’am! You’ve got a deal."
Brian walked with purpose, shoulders forward for momentum, pigeon-toed, elbows tight and arms swingin’. Like a cowboy’s hat, you knew it was Brian a hundred yards away in the fog. His shoulder dropped a tick with the fall of his left foot; more of a hitch than a limp. It could have been courtesy of a cow last week or a full-back in high school. It was not about to break his stride and had never concerned him enough to take an Advil, let alone an X-ray.
To be continued...