Here on the ranch, we have Australian Shepherds and a Border Collie. The BC doesn’t work cattle; mostly, she barks at them from a safe distance in the hope that they don’t come near her, or even turn around and look at her. But she is pretty okay on the sheep, and now, the ducks. She’s quite happy to not have to mess with those big bovines.

Hoke had to retire many years ago from working due to bad knees, but in his prime, he was an awesomely scary cattle working machine.  Think of a cross between ‘Mad Max’ and Jackie Chan.  The job will get done, but chances are, body fluids may be spilled, and a lot of activity will take place in a very short period of time.  Hoke had no time or patience for cattle that wanted to see if he meant it when he said move.  Now, he just sits in the Dog Mahal (the ½ acre dog run) and barks out commands to the other dogs when they are working.  Honestly, I don’t think they listen to him much.

Ho Dog was more of the Cow Whisperer.  He had plenty of power, but more like the Sean Connery type of power – smooth and charming, rarely violent except when a cow really wanted to push him over a cliff.  Then there would be trouble for the cow, and no matter what, Ho always came out on top.  There was so much heart, and no quit in that dog.  No matter how bad things got, no matter how much I screwed things up, he never quit trying to fix it all and get the job done.

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And then there is Cricket.  Ho’s niece, she’ll be 11 this year.  She’s taken on most of Ho’s chores since he left us, and by far her fave thing is to lay down the law to the cows.  Since she was a 14 month old pup, she saw her job as making sure 2200 pounds of beef on the hoof, otherwise known as JB Roar, does what he’s told, when he’s told to do it.  He sometimes doesn’t see things that way.  One great shot I have is of tiny Cricket, all probably 30 pounds of her at the time, standing right up nose to nose with a bull whose head was bigger than her entire body, and without even lifting a lip, making that great head turn and walk away.  That is power, and she’s got it in spades.  It’s to the point that when Roar gets all, well, bullish on us, all I have to do (and this is no joke) is say ‘Guess I’ll go get Cricket’, and with much chuffing and complaining, he’ll do as he’s asked, because he doesn’t want to deal with her.  At all.

However.  A few nights ago, we were working in the feederbunks, cleaning them out with the tractor.  We had just weaned my boss cow, Ruffie, and she was stuck in that pasture with Bert the steer while daughter Chelsea hung out with the rest of the herd in the north pasture.  Ruffie is the very definition of a spoiled cow.  If you look up ‘spoiled cow’ online, there’s probably a picture of her with the definition. 

Bert took the hint the first time Cricket pushed him out of the bunks, and decided discretion was the far better part of valor and stayed the heck out of the way of her.  Ruffie, on the other hand, wanted to play hardball, which just happens to be Cricket’s fave game with the cows.

At one point, hubby left the pasture with the tractor to go swap bucket and grapple for forks.  He left the pasture gate open because he didn’t see either Bert or Ruffie, knew he wouldn’t be long enough for either of them to wander up that far, and he didn’t feel like getting back off and on the tractor one more time.  Cricket and I were in the barn starting to put things back together, when I heard him yell for her.  Seems that Ruffie spotted the open gate, and decided to take a self guided tour of the yard and gardens, and no puny human waving a baseball hat was going to stop her.  Before Cricket could get there, he managed to get her pointed at the gate, where Cricket took over and pushed her through and down the fenceline a ways, just to get the point across.

I don’t know when it happened.  Cricket never made a sound, and from my vantage point, I never saw Ruffie take a poke at Cricket.  But Ruffie was already huffy about losing her daughter, and being denied her right to browse anywhere she wanted by some puny human waving a hat in her face.  All I know is that once Cricket had Ruffie where she wanted her, and after she’d gone to Ruffie’s head to plant a solid one on her nose to punctuate the point, she came back with a smug look on her face – and snorting blood.  I verified that she now had two fewer teeth than she started the day with, but no other injuries were apparent.  And those two lower incisors, at her age, were barely there to begin with anymore, so their loss was more a matter of pride than grievous injury.

In all her years working cattle, from ‘grind anyone to dust who gets in their way’ bone-rank steers to ‘yep, I got the message and I’m going now’ docile elder cows, she had never, ever been kicked or head butted.  Ever.  The very first time she worked cattle at 14 months old, on non-dog broke, rank young steers, one of them took an amazing kick at her that she deftly ducked as she hit the other leg – the one with all the weight of the steer on it – HARD.  That’s instinct.  That can’t be trained.  The dog either has it, or it doesn’t.  So, this was a surprise indeed.

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I don’t consider that grounds for retirement at all.  She never flinched, never quit, finished the job and all in all, wasn’t really hurt much.  She’s also a very, VERY smart working dog, and I have no doubt she learned from that experience.

What I do know is that 1400 pound bovines do NOT make good pets.  Older, wiser and now 55 pound canines, however, make the finest pets and working partners on the planet. 

My money’s on Cricket to make Ruffie pay the piper sometime soon.

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