As black as purest ebony and with a head large enough to fill the front end of a Volkswagen, this behemoth bull, misnomered Dandelion, eyed me steadily from the chute in which he awaited his turn for vaccination and insect doping.
My job on this frigid, wet day was clambering atop the chutes and working the gates to release the cattle from one stage of the process to the next and to keep them moving. My feet, layered with three pair of socks and loosely shoved into my husband's oversized rubber boots, struggled against seeping numbness from the cold as I grappled for a steadier hold atop the highest rails on both sides of the chute. Dande was a picture of simmering power, from his massive hooves upwards through his colossal shoulders and back and into an impossibly enormous neck.
He was a new bull to our herd, and one who already showed he was not the fairly docile animal his predecessors were. I have never been afraid of cattle and have worked with them since I could walk, but something about Dande alerted me to take extra caution; to be very aware around him. .
The cows in front of Dande processed through each phase with no problems. My husband and Teenaged Daughter did their jobs with practiced efficiency and it soon came time for Dande to move into the final staging area.
The yard around the corral was already a putrid quagmire, with the drizzle producing a sticky mud that mixed with the near- diarrhea inevitably poured out by nervous cattle. The cows and calves who had already been released stayed near the working pens, crowding our area and causing us to shout to be heard over their indignant moos.
"Honey, be careful- we don't know what to expect with Dande, " my husband cautioned me.
"Don't worry! He's not going to be a problem, " I yelled back.
Teenaged Daughter braced herself and took a firm grip on the last small chute gate, which she would close and thus lock Dande into place once he stepped up into it. My husband grasped tightly the two levers that control the head gate that would clamp around Dande's gargantuan neck and hold his head in place once Dande pushed through.
My husband would then quickly jab Dande with two different vaccinations and afterwards free him into the pasture to be with his harem. All that was left to set things into motion was me getting Dande to move on up to the last part of the chute.
That was the plan.
Straddling the top of the chute and balanced in too-large boots on the top rails, I opened the gate in front of Dande, which for most cattle is incentive to move quickly forward. I tensed and held tightly.
Dande didn't budge. He didn't even flinch. "Go on, go on, " I urged him. Like a statue, he remained cemented into place.
I released my hand holds from the post, carefully inched my way farther back behind Dande, and pulled up a rattle paddle, a plastic oar- shaped instrument with rattles inside, used to swat the behinds of reluctant bovines. I tapped him on the behind and shook it, creating a racket. Still, he acted as if he'd turned to stone.
Mindful of my tenuous hold, I carefully looked back to see how much more room I had to maneuver.
In that split second, something in Dande exploded. In a move so quick I didn't even see all of it, he reared up, catching a front leg over the top of the six foot high chute. Now enraged, he bellowed and jerked backwards, freeing himself in the front and kicking with his hind feet the rails atop which I was perched.
I dropped like a rock outside the chute, landing butt first in the manure/mud cesspool below me. The bounce took me over on my side, coating three fourths of me with the fetid stuff.
I was initially stunned until the splatter from fleeing, startled cows pelted my face.
I struggled to get to my feet, sliding and stumbling, causing more of the sludge to ooze down the inside of my boots.
With his view of me obstructed, my husband called out, "You OK, honey?"
I spat manure/ mud from my mouth before I could answer. I choked out, "Fine...I'm fine."
Dande looked at me, bobbed his head, and took three dainty steps forward, placing his head into the neck gate as if he'd trained all his life for it.
"Wow, he's been much easier than I thought he would be! " my husband remarked happily as he finished the vaccinations. "You really are a good old fellow aren't you?" he cooed as Dande demurely blinked.