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An Obsession with Cows

“Have you checked the cows today?”

After moving eight miles from town and down the road from my in-laws, I wondered at my father-in-law’s compulsion to drive through his cattle every single day, sometimes twice. My husband did the same. We drove through the steers he fed out on leased grass most every day until the fall when they were taken to the sale barn.

Watching the herd graze under an endless blue sky from our new front porch was enjoyable, but nothing special. It’s not like you could actually pet a cow or form a bond like you can with a dog or cat.

On occasion, my father-in-law included my sons in his craziness by stopping on his four-wheeler and taking them along. They eagerly watched for him at the end of the drive, absolute joy sparkling in their eyes as they waved to me from the seat beside him.

One morning I observed the task of ‘checking the cows’ in a whole new light. My mother-in-law was admitted for a heart procedure. While my husband joined his family at the hospital, the checking of the cattle fell to me and our oldest son. It was early spring and our instructions were simple; count the pairs of momma cows and calves, making certain no one was missing. During this time of year, the newborn calves are vulnerable to stray dogs, coyotes, and even in today’s world, rustlers. This is also the time of year first time mother cows, called ‘heifers’, might have problems with giving birth.

Bouncing across the pasture in the four-wheeler with my son at the wheel, the meadowlarks provided stereo surround sound as their melody cheerfully exclaimed a new day. The air was still and clear, with just enough chill to tingle the tip of my nose.

There was one slight problem: our count was off. We couldn’t find a single cow.

We drove back and forth, criss-crossing the place and then back again, making wide circles. Just about the time I was ready to admit the only thing left to do was to drive the fence line and search for a hole in the barbed wire, we topped a small rise at the back of the place. There they were. The herd grazed at the very  bottom of a low arroyo, which is why we hadn’t been able to see them from anywhere on the place.

A few of the mother cows leisurely raised their heads as we puttered over the hill. Their babies hopped and chased each other paying us no never mind, new life running at full tilt. The calves speckled the pasture, their hides a variety of colors in rust, brown, caramel, and my favorite, a dark, rich mocha brown. The patches of grass glistened in brilliant shades of green, washed clean from an early rain shower. Sparkling blue pools doted the lows giving the herd no reason to come in to the windmill for a drink during the night.

Can this be real or a place of fantasy – lovely, serene, perfect? Home. The worries of the hectic world seemed thousands of miles away. A total feeling of peace settled on my worries. Now I understood the obsession with raising cows.

We buried my father-in-law this past week. He was 88. Junior Keith Bright served in the military, attended college, and worked at General Dynamics, but it wasn’t his passion. He moved the family to Colorado and began selling real estate. Because of his roots in ranching and farming, he could relate to sellers and buyers, building a reputation for closing deals. In 1970’s he relocated the family back to Texas.  His passion for the farming and ranching lifestyle never wavered throughout his life, running cattle personally and helping others find their little piece of heaven as a Real Estate Broker. He believed in full property rights for owners, and hated owner associations that imposed restrictions on property. His reputation was such that he sometimes sold the same piece of land several times over, as the owners would come back as sellers, and often times assisted several generations within the same family. I really appreciated his encouragement and knowledge when I studied for the real estate exam and passed. I was so excited to have him as my broker.

He  was tough as a boot, both stubborn and opinionated, as most Texas men are, and what I admired most was his knowledge about ranching, a can-do attitude, business sense, and the ability to read people and bring them together to close a deal. Every party left the table satisfied. He remembered every family’s name and could recall location and the history of acreage he had sold. Even at the point he was confined to a wheelchair, he talked about all of the tasks that had to be done; buy new bulls, time to plant the wheat, acres for sale he should look at, fences to be mended, salt block to put out. In his later years, he reminded my husband on a daily basis of this “to-do” list. His mind was sharp as a tac until just before he passed.

The last Sunday before his death, his daughter brought him from The Craig in Amarillo to south of Canyon to see his cattle and the newborn calves. We didn’t know that it would be his last time on the home place. He leaves a legacy of pride in property ownership and a strong sense of responsibility as owner and caretaker of pasture lands, which he passed down to both my husband and our sons.

Rest in peace, PawPaw.

All photos by N. Bright.

Natalie Cline Bright is a blogger, speaker and author of the fun, historical western TROUBLE IN TEXAS series for middle grades, the RESCUE ANIMAL picture book series, and other works. She is currently working on a book about the great cattle driving era of Texas, which will include archival photos and authentic chuck wagon recipes. Visit her Amazon Author Page to learn more about her books.