Roy and the Heifer
This Roy story takes place while Roy was in college and is a true story based upon the author’s actual adventure while he worked on a cattle and sheep ranch in Wyoming. I listened to it as he told it over the phone and then finished when Roy returned home.
Roy and the Heifer
It was pure luck. As Roy wiped the sweat from his brow and eyes, he happened to look down into the nearby ravine and noticed a brown and white body. It lay not far from a shallow stream flowing through a small stand of willow trees. He left his horse at the barbed wire fence he had been repairing, and slid down the loose, gravel slope toward the body. It looked like a dead Hereford cow, no doubt one of his boss’s. But as he drew closer, there appeared to be two bodies lying together. Finally, as Roy stood next to them he realized what actually lay at his feet and how it came to be.
The cow was a Herford heifer that had selected this location to give birth to her first calf. The willow trees and the little stream provided an ideal place to have her first calf, out of the sun and with plenty of water. Unfortunately, as nature would have it, the calf had died during the birth process and now lay there at Roy’s feet, with only its head, front legs and shoulders protruding from its mother. It was a strange sight, one the typical Bronx kid could not even imagine in his wildest dreams. Birth fluids and the birth sac had completely dried and had glued the little calf securely into its mother’s birth canal. It was a tragic mess, but Roy understood nature’s indifference to such events and the ultimate laws of survival and evolution that were at play without concern for the life of any one animal.
It did not take Roy very long to imagine the circumstances. The poor heifer had exhausted herself trying to expel her calf. By the looks of it, she must have suffered for days lying in the gravel streambed before she died. Roy was surprised that the coyotes had not already found the bodies. They would soon have a feast, a big change of diet from their normal fare of prairie dogs and gophers. Roy was saddened by this tragedy, but there was nothing he could do now. He thought it best to continue his assigned fence repair job of the day.
As Roy turned to climb back up the slope to the fence, the heifer took a deep breath and opened her eyes. Roy was shocked. He had been sure that she was dead but he had been mistaken. Her big eyes rolled up to look at Roy and her mouth opened in a feeble attempt to protest her condition, but Roy heard nothing. No doubt, she had been crying out in distress until there was no voice left in her. A city kid from New York and a dying cow from a Wyoming cattle ranch looked at each other in silence on that hot August afternoon. The situation had suddenly changed, from a tragedy to a rescue attempt. But, what could he do? Roy stood next to the heifer and thought.
Looking for a little adventure, Roy, having completed his sophomore year at college, hitchhiked across the country until he ran out of cash and rides in the little, dusty town of Encampment, Wyoming. Encampment had a few stores, a gas station, one tavern with an actual hitching post out front, and no stop lights. A Grey Hound bus stop was its only connection to the outside world. A cattle rancher, in town for supplies, offered Roy a summer job as a ranch hand, at $100 a month plus room and board. It was an unforeseen, but fortunate event, which added much richness to Roy’s life in the big city. He took the job without hesitation; he would have taken it without pay. He knew he would be experiencing many new and wonderful things. That moment, standing over the heifer and her calf, looking into her big terrified eyes, was such an experience.
Roy stood quietly, deep in thought. He figured he had several options. It was an hour ride back to the ranch and maybe another two hours before he could find his boss and get back to the heifer with help. By then the heifer might be dead. If the coyotes found her she would be eaten alive. Roy had his boss’s revolver with him and he could have put her out of her misery. He considered that option for several minutes but could not imagine himself putting bullets into her thick skull. And besides, twenty-two caliber bullets might not have done the job. He decided upon a third choice. He would attempt to deliver the dead calf himself.
Roy sat down behind the heifer and placed his feet on her withers. He grabbed the calf’s legs and pulled as hard as he could but to no avail. He tried again and again with no success. The little calf was cemented into its mother. He realized it would be impossible for him to pull the calf out by himself. He thought for a while and finally got another idea worth trying.
Roy climbed back up the slope to his horse. He led it down into the ravine next to the cow and then cut off a length of the barbed wire spool he carried with him. He wrapped and secured it tightly around the little calf’s body. He tied one end of his rope to the harness, mounted his horse, and wrapped the other end around his saddle horn. He hoped to forcefully pull the calf free. He tried, but all he succeeded in doing was to pull both calf and cow several feet along the gravel streambed.
It seemed the calf was permanently glued into its mother’s birth canal; there was no way he could save the heifer. Nevertheless, Roy was determined to try again. He splashed water from the nearby stream over the cow and calf, sat down next to them, and tried to soften the congealed fluids that acted like glue. Eventually he was able to loosen and separate some of the little calf’s body from the birth canal. He forced his fingers partly into the birth canal around the calf. He hoped this would be enough to pull the calf free.
Roy remounted his horse and pulled, but again all he managed to do was to drag heifer and calf further along the gravel streambed. Finally, in desperation, Roy dragged them over to a clump of willow trees and wedged the heifer behind the trees. He remounted, and pulled again, but this time he felt some movement. There was a sucking sound and a groan from the heifer, and the calf was delivered. The poor exhausted heifer lay on her side to weak to move.
Roy and his horse managed to pull her into the shallow stream and with great effort, righted her so she could take her first drink in days. He stayed with her the rest of the afternoon, talking to her in his special way, stroking her thin body, and encouraging her to stand. Roy had a history of communicating with animals in some unexplained manner. He talked to them in a calm and nonthreatening way. My theory was, the sound of his voice relaxed the animals enough so they accepted him as a non predator, possibly as one of their own. Eventually, she regained enough strength to stagger to her feet with Roy’s help. She was a pitiful sight wobbling on her knuckles, unable to stand normally.
When shadows finally engulfed the ravine and the sky darkened, Roy mounted his horse and reluctantly left the heifer standing in the stream, still unable to walk. While Roy rode back to the ranch he had plenty of time to think. He wondered what thoughts, if any, the heifer had as he worked to save her life. Did she somehow know that he was trying to help her, or did she consider Roy one more agony to add to her misery?
That night, in the darkness of a ranch bunkhouse, a kid from the New York City thought about life and death and the indifference of nature. Did suffering and pain serve a useful purpose in this world, as did pleasure and happiness? Roy thought about it long into the night and came up with answers that seemed to make sense to him. The evolution of life and even the creation of new life could not have occurred without death and rebirth, suffering and pleasure. That was just the way nature operated. All life had a time to live and die.
The next day, after morning chores, milking the cows, and breakfast, Roy and his boss rode out to find the heifer. She was gone, but his boss was pleased. He was sure she had recovered and rejoined the herd. Roy had to admit to himself, that he was quite pleased as well. His little adventure, the tragedy and rescue on a Wyoming cattle ranch was of no importance in a world filled with tragedy and adversity. Yet, this experience gave Roy a good feeling and a newfound confidence in himself. Roy wrote home to Maggie, Millie, and me that night and told us about his adventure with the Heifer. He knew I would be especially interested and add the story to my journal of Roy’s adventures.
In the fall, Roy returned to college with a greater love of nature and enhanced determination to do whatever he could to help animals and save the precious environment upon which all life depends.