Moses the Matriarch

There is one universal truth that accompanies working cattle: What can go wrong inevitably will.

After spending a lifetime doing farm labor, I have amassed a catalog of empirical evidence to support this claim. Cattle, as a species, are much smarter than they appear. They can always smell the rat in your best laid plan and given the opportunity to shun your appointed mission they will do so with flair.

These are not things they teach you in Animal Science 101. No fancy text book will tell you how to be prepared to be outsmarted by a ruminant herbivore, but every cattleman has been bested by the beast. This usually occurs because of that one cow in every herd who makes group decisions. The one old alpha-female. The Commander in Chief. The matriarch. If you got her, you got the day whipped. But in most instances, just like the human species, she will spook when provoked and rain hellfire down on your day.

One of our matriarchs is named Moses. Not every bovine in the herd has a dually appointed name. This is often a result of privilege or incident. The trick with one family group in our care has always been to get Moses the Matriarch to head in the right direction, and the rest, like the Jews out of Egypt, will follow. Not every animal is a strategical elitist, but just like her Biblical counterpart Moses never fails to have a few plagues up her sleeve.

The day began before dawn. Gates were set. Tennis shoes were laced up, because thou cannot run on freshly dewed grass in cowboy boots, and tactical gear must be appropriate to the battle. We were preparing for war. Going into this mission, we knew as four pseudo-awake, pseudo-adults armed only with our theorized superior intellect and sorting sticks that we were facing a worthy adversary in open pasture.

The goal was simple: funnel them across flat land to an inconspicuously open gate. But Moses, she was onto us from the start.

We chased. We followed. We went right and then left and then right again. Up the creek and down the creek. Down the fence and through the fence. For 45 minutes we pleaded and prodded and begged and coaxed and cussed and prayed. To no avail.

Eventually I got booted out of the truck with the tactical mission to flank the main group to prevent them from turning and heading into the wooded high ground, and most of all to get Moses pointed in the right direction. Armed with a flimsy plastic stick with a flag on the end, I bellied out my best ‘yah’ noise and tried to urge them forward. Moses, intrigued by the flag on the end of my pretty orange stick, mistook me for a Spanish bullfighter. Looking for a fight and mistakenly sensing a formidable opponent she decided to head toward me, instead of the open gate. Instinctively I stood my ground. They can smell fear, you know. I shewed at her, waving the stick. This merely served to heighten her interest in eating my lunch.

Now I know that her 1200-pound frame of lean muscle and leather is a healthy match for my (weight undisclosed) frame that is built mostly of chili dogs and butter pecan ice cream. I’m losing that battle. 100% of the time. My only course of action is to retreat, and my ability to do that efficiently is even severely limited by my standard operating procedure to run only when chased. The human form requires running to be practiced routinely to be a skill that has any sense of mastery, and I am admittedly much more proficient with a fork than a treadmill.

But I digress. It is said that you cannot be a coward and a cowboy, but I remain entrenched in the belief that the modern cowboy is more practical about the status of his cowardice based on the balance of his health insurance deductible. So like the responsible adult I am, I ran. My fellow patriots, hearing my shrieking and witnessing the uncoordinated evacuation of my post, returned to rescue me. And as I crawled into the truck, the herd now encircling us, dissipated in every possible direction except forward toward the gate.

We sat dejectedly watching as the entire herd filtered around us, heading in the opposite direction of the gate we needed them to mosey through. They trotted past us in defiance, leaving us to debate whether we wanted donuts or biscuits and gravy for breakfast. Now that the morning was a failure before the sun was fully even up, the best course of action to pacify a bad start is always to eat your feelings, preferably with something delicious.

Just as I was getting excited about picking up a pallet of donut holes, Moses stopped. She stared at the truck, and on her cloven hoof pivoted. She first began to walk in the direction of the open gate. Her walk turned into a fast trot, and within a matter of minutes the entire gaggle of black hided heathens fell behind her in line. They filed past our stunned faces, just as efficiently as they had run by us moments earlier. I can now say I have seen the Spirit of the Lord move.

We all nodded in agreement that this was in fact an act of God. We would love to take credit for being superior stockman, but any witnesses would have called us bold faced liars. We had nothing to do with this victory. Moses simply had enough of us chasing her in circles and had called the brigade to move out.

We watched as she led her people into the promised land. Too scared to move for fear of changing her mind, we sat perched in the Dodge just like Pharaoh on his throne until they had crossed the proverbial Red Sea.

Who is the superior species? Pride says the jury is out. But the scoreboard reads clearly: Moses-1. Ranchers-0.

Originally published by The Mena Star July 11, 2018


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