Cow Curling

Cow Curling
by Travis Eklund


Bill looked out across the yard and shook his head. His gaze rested on the expanse of ice that lay ahead of him. He took a sip of his coffee and contemplated the winter thus far.

The snow storms had started to blow through in December and continued with almost clock-like regularity.  It was the wind which added that extra special touch.  The wind had blown all winter long.  It would blow in fresh snow from the north and then switch to the west and pile all that snow into long drifts.  Every week the piles of snow grew and grew.  Plowing out the driveway every few days with the front-end loader was time consuming so Bill had finally broke down and bought a snow-plow blade for his truck.

The weather improved for a while in January. The snow stopped. The wind still blew but now it was a warm Chinook wind. The mountains of snow started to melt. There was water everywhere. There was no place for the water to go so it just sat there.

The weather turned again at the end of January. This time the wind blew in a cold front. All that melted snow turned into vast areas of ice. Even the hills were coated with ice.

Bill figured it would be faster, and probably safer, to skate across the yard to the shop but he didn’t have his skates with him. He briefly contemplated going back into the house until May. Instead he took another sip of coffee and gingerly headed out across the yard to the shop. After many careful steps and a few close calls Bill gratefully opened the shop door and stepped onto dry land. He fired up the old truck, double checked it was in four wheel drive and headed out for another day on the ranch.

Bill’s first stop was on the hill in the driveway. It wasn’t an intentional stop. Physics tell us that a truck in four wheel drive requires a speed of X to climb a hill covered with an inch of solid ice. Bill’s speed was less than X which left him sliding gently back down to the bottom of the hill.
Bill’s eventually made it up the driveway and turned out onto the gravel road. The front end of the truck obediently headed down the road, eager to go to work. The back end continued the turn, sliding on the ice. Fortunately the ditch wasn’t very deep and the truck didn’t have too much trouble getting out. Bill took a deep breath, mumbled something about ice under his breath, took another sip of coffee and continued down the road to where the cow herd was wintering.

The cows were bale grazing in an old pasture some ways off the road and it was time to move them to the next set of bales. There were a few gates on the road in and Bill knew he had to be extra careful pulling up to the gates if he didn’t want to be spending the afternoon fixing fence. The first gate wasn’t too bad. Bill gently eased up to it, gingerly stepped through the ice and snow and swung the gate open.

He had a little too much speed pulling up to the second gate. He didn’t break the post off but he wasn’t very happy about the new dent in the truck. Bill opened the gate wide and honked the horn to call the cows. The old girls knew that meant fresh groceries were ready and came on the run.

Bill led the cows into the next field where the bales had been set-out in long rows for the cows to graze on. With the cows moved, Bill turned his truck for the gate at the end of the field. He slid up to the gate and stopped. He just sat there in his truck for a minute. The gate was in a low spot at the bottom of a little hill and it was surrounded by a huge frozen puddle polished smooth by the constant wind. It took some creative foot work and a few fair impressions of Bambie but Bill managed to get the gate open.  He pulled his truck through, wrestled the gate closed again and climbed back into the warm truck. Bill took a sip of luke-warm coffee and glanced in his mirror. His heart damn near stopped. The cows hadn’t noticed the hay bales out in the field. They were still following the truck, charging down the hill towards the truck and the icy gate.

Bill said it was like watching bovine curling. The first cow down the hill was an old veteran; she had seen a few winters. When she hit that ice she instantly went to an in-turn and drew right…up…to…the gate.
The next few cows were similarly experienced and all drew to the button. They stopped with their heads hanging over the fence, staring at the truck with looks of bewilderment.
Unfortunately there were a few heifers mixed in with the cows. Heifers tend to be a little exuberant, especially in competitive situations like moving to fresh feed. The first heifer came barreling down the hill with reckless abandonment. She tried to stop but came in too heavy. She hit the ice at the bottom of the hill with take-out weight and successfully cleared the house.

There were cattle and gate pieces everywhere.

Bill spent the next couple hours fencing and chasing cows. When he rolled into the yard later that afternoon he was leaning towards cranky. His coffee was long cold, the wind was blowing again and he hadn’t accomplished half of what he wanted to. His wife was sympathetic and poured him a drink. She couldn’t understand when he suddenly turned and locked himself in the office. All she said was “Do you want ice in that?”