It was back in 1958 when Dad had Ernie Stuart deliver 8 Hereford heifers here to the farm. Ernie was a livestock hauler and trader and Dad and his dad dealt with Ernie often.
This deal was special. It was the beginning of many things near and dear to me. Now we had a small herd of purebred cattle that all looked alike – no more days of a motley gathering of this and that – all red with white trim – just like Christmas. I was excited because Dad gave one of them to me in exchange for taking care of all 8 in his absence. He worked highway construction and was gone through the week. Now all we needed was about 6 months and a white-face bull. Between that one Hereford heifer, Ol’ Pet, the milk cow and their calves, I had made the “big time” in farming. All it took was having a vested interest in ownership and a shiny new “Little Red” IH tractor to make a farm boy believe he was livin’ the good life. If you add a new red F-600 Ford truck with a 390 police interceptor engine, 4 – speed transmission with a fifth gear overdrive and a two-speed axle – say no more- he’s “King of the Road.”
I have so many fond memories of 1958. They all spin around Dad and me, those 2 new toys, and a new cattle beginning. I was 12, just out of Little League, really into farming and girls, and 2 years away from Mighty Minford football. Oh, what a pivotal moment we have there.
As the herd started, they were little, small and pink. As we bought bulls, we bought bigger and redder bulls. As the years went by, the cattle herd went from 9 to 25 and then to 35 in the seventies. That meant leasing pasture across the road and buying hay. As I took over the cattle in the new millennium, I kept reducing the herd so this farm could support them in pasture and hay. These cattle are darker on the red and heavier on the hoof. They eat more than the small ones used to eat. The magic numbers now are 15 in spring, summer, fall and 7 in winter.
Recently, I hauled 2 cows, a calf, and 5 feeders to Hillsboro and the Union Stockyard out on Route 138. There were several special things about this day.
First, I took my landscape foreman, Dean Kazee, with me. I did that because for the first time, with this new-found cancer, I don’t know how much strength I would have to change a tire. I always pack 2 hydraulic jacks, a 4-way lug wrench, a cheater bar, wood blocks, and a spare tire. It’s happened before but not today – that’s a good thing.
Second, as we unloaded for tomorrow’s sale, who should drive up but Bill Butler, the owner of the stockyard. We talked about the history of the place, my cattle and memories of my dad and uncle at the stockyard sales. He reminded me of how he remembers me.
As you know, the western movies are full of Hereford cattle and they’re branded. As a big boy and young man, I had watched one too many Westerns so I had a welder buddy make a Circle “W” brand for me and I started branding all of our cattle. I thought that when the rustlers found Swauger Valley, I would be one step ahead of them.
Bill isn’t just the owner. He was the auctioneer back then in the seventies and eighties and his eyes bugged out when he saw those branded white-face cattle come across the sale pen. He asked whose cattle they were and I stood up. I’ve been proud of my cattle and he remembers me as the cowboy from Minford. We had a great talk about 50 years of good times.
We don’t know what the future holds for Bill, myself, or my white-face cattle herd but as for now, I’m planning one more load soon. That load will be any extra bulls or off-color cattle and the number will be five.
That will leave me with a handsome roan red ton Hereford bull and four of the best looking roan red 12 – 1500 lb. Hereford cows you’ve seen.
This logic will get me through the winter on hay and/or cancer operation, when I get it down to that “Fab Five” I’m still in the driver’s seat on the farm. I still have the basic “original recipe” on the cattle if I live and have luck but I can go out of the cattle business in one trip if I’m forced to. I can’t imagine driving up and down the quarter mile drive and not seeing any red cattle. That would seem very wrong. I remember when I would walk up the hollow with Mom and Dad after they turned the cattle over to me. They just wanted to count them. It’s shur-nuff strange isn’t it – how your mind meanders up and down a quarter mile gravel road and back forth through the decades? Should we name it the slow lane or memory lane?
Dudley Wooten is the owner/operator of Wooten’s Landscaping and Nursery and can be contacted at 740-820-8210.