Sometimes, when my husband is otherwise detained, the kids and I get to feed cows by ourselves. I say “get to” because, although we very much cherish riding along with Daddy to feed cows, when he doesn’t come I… I… I get to be the boss.
And it’s good for both me and the kids to remember I’m capable of more than pouring cereal, filling the bathtub, and turning on the Disney Channel.
In the photo, Emi and Asher are standing in what we call the “cake wagon,” waiting for cows to come in for feed. “Cake” is our word for the hard cylinders of protein we feed to supplement the cows on grass in the winter. We fill the cake wagon — which is actually a remade pickup bed — from a cake-filled tower with a live bottom, then pull the cake wagon out to the pasture with the pickup. Then we call the cows in, count them as best we can, and once they’re all there, put the cake wagon into gear. Using an auger, the cake wagon unloads the cake out the back a few pounds at a time as we drive in circles.
And that’s how you cake cows.
(That’s a whole lot of mechanical jargon for the likes of me. I hope you can’t tell I really have no idea what all I just said.)
Anyhow, the other day I was calling the cows in by tooting the horn on the pickup. The cows are accustomed to hearing the horn honk and, in the fashion of Pavlov’s dog, their mouths start watering when they hear the horn… and their hooves start moving toward the sound.
You can guess that my kids love helping me honk the horn. And they love hanging their heads out the window and naming the cows too. (See Emi, above.)
I got to thinking about when I was a kid caking with my own mom or dad. Back then, in the ’80s, most all the ranch pickups were equipped with sirens for calling cows. Why, I’m not sure — maybe pickup horns weren’t as strong back then? Anyhow, there would be a little button close to the radio which would cause the pickup to wail like a police car as long as the button was held in.
I thought those sirens were pretty cool. They were designed to take the news to the top of the windiest ridge, to the back of the deepest coulee, that the lunch wagon was coming for every able cow.
Dad’s preferred method of calling cows, though, was always with his voice. He would park on a ridge or in a creek bottom and turn off the pickup and bellow in his deep, melodic voice: “Kaaaaaaaaaaaaay yo-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o! Kaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaay yo-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o!”
Dad never raised his voice as I was growing up, and as far as I could tell he didn’t discernibly sing out loud even at church, so to hear him belting out that cow-call for the entire pasture to hear was a wonder indeed for my young ears.
I remember thinking that “kay yo” must be German for “cow” and thus part of an ancient language of herdsmen that cows innately understood. I wonder if at least the German part is true? If so, Dad must have learned it when he came to Montana as a high school graduate, because he grew up in Minnesota surrounded by Scandinavians.
Dad never liked for me to try to call cows in with “Kaaaaaaaaaay yo-o-o-o-o-o-o” when I was a girl, as he said my high tone of voice would make the cows uncomfortable.
These days when I cake cows I don’t even try to use my voice to call them. After all, it’s been a long time since the ’80s, and if I did try to call them in with a “Kaaaaaay yo-o-o-o-o,” these new-fangled cows probably wouldn’t even know what I was talking about.
I can still hear Dad’s voice, though, echoing deeply down the white creek bottom and over the frosty backs of coming cattle. He could’ve used the siren. But I think he knew they preferred hearing his love song.
© Tami Blake