Learn the Language

Anytime someone visits a different country and culture, it’s helpful to learn the native language.

The following is a language lesson covering some of the most commonly used words in ranch country. It’s a complicated language that’s similar to English but has room for misinterpretation.

Slick calf/cow: A calf or cow that is NOT slippery when wet as one might assume by the word, but rather doesn’t have its ID on him or her.

Ear-tagged: A form of bovine body piercing.

Hired Hand: A rancher’s wife who doesn’t get paid.

[Swear word(s)]: Exclamations used to imply dissatisfaction, anger, or impatience for any number of reasons. Meanings and interpretations vary depending on the circumstance and severity of any given situation.

Disasters: Usually considered to be a big mess and can be one of two things: thought to be a form of mutiny by a herd that wants to run the show during handling, or a gargantuan problem that can potentially affect the whole herd such as snowstorms, lack of water sources, feed, health, etc.

Wrecks: Abbreviations of disasters whereas cows do not read the rancher’s mind in order to understand his instructions while being handled, and/or cows that do not cooperate according to plan.

Calving: Assumed to be a no-brainer to mean either an individual cow or a herd consisting of female cows during a time of year—usually springtime—that go through the birthing process to produce offspring. You couldn’t be more wrong. Calving is a sleep-deprived time of year; sometimes nightmarish due to harsh spring snowstorms in addition to daily and nightly checking, worrying, assisting, or EMT responding to cows or calves; all of which can last for months.

Cleaning: Referred to as a noun rather than a verb here. A gloppy substance oftentimes accompanied by a ranch dog chewing on it after a cow has eaten her post-calving fill and is something frequently brought to a rancher’s front yard also by the dog. Also resembles unsliced pepperoni in appearance when still hanging from a cow’s backside.

Scours: See also “disaster,” as it can become one, in addition to “bovine runny excrement.”

Pink Eye: Defined by ranchers as “pink eye,” but misinterpreted and portrayed as foot and mouth disease to ignorant people who visit the People Eating Tofu Alot group’s website in order to persuade misinformed people to become vegetarians (I am not making this up).

Cattle Pot: Not something that cattle poop in, but rather a form of cattle transportation that cattle poop all over while being transported someplace. And a little cattle pot jingle to go along with it: “Cows poop hot, cows poop cold, cows poop in the pot nine days old,” and then it gets really dried up in the pot. I may not have the words exactly right but it’s some kind of jingle about green soup.

Bottle Calf: Pretty self explanatory—a  headache resulting from mixing stinky milk replacer, feeding it to a bum calf, and having to thoroughly wash the bottle afterwards for what feels like a child’s entire elementary years, twice daily. A chore commonly assigned to children but eventually pawned-off to another family member (usually the mother) when school begins.

You’ll have a much easier time communicating with the natives in ranch country by learning these words. Look for more ranch country terminology in upcoming columns.

This column was originally published January 3-9, 2010

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