I watched Charles taking blood and pregnancy testing Jenny and John Ratts-Harrisons’ Hereford cows. Actually, it takes a whole team to do the job. Charles’ main large animal employee, Val Brock, was keeping records for the office and checking the cows’ eyes. A pre-vet student from FSU was helping fill tubes with blood for testing when Charles handed her each syringe. John worked the head catch and herded the cows, and seasoned herdsman Carey Humphries drove cows down the lane and into the chute. Jenny herself kept the farm records, passed empty syringes to Charles as he needed them and kept ear tags up to date.
Jenny is a neo-natal nurse fulltime but the cows are a very strong “hobby.” She’s very interested and involved in the family cattle business. Her husband John and the help call her “the Boss.” I’ve seen her at work at Archbold Hospital in Thomasville when our great grands were born. She showed the same efficient energy and authoritative capability there as she does with her 1200 pound mamas. But her attire is quite different. Here on the farm she had on a billed hat almost hiding her sparkling grey eyes. Pants smeared with green and brown were stuffed into tall boots caked by the time I arrived with mud and manure. Her loose fitting, blue long sleeved shirt came almost to her knees and was decorated in barnyard stuff. But whether at the hospital in sparkling scrubs, or with her cows, her petite wiry figure is in constant energized motion.
It had rained a lot so the areas inside the pens and lanes were soggy. But no one minded the mud, either bovine or human. As each cow came to the chute (not voluntarily, of course, but with help from a whip and a cattle prod), there was a pause as she recognized she must put her head forward, horns and all, before she’d be freed to go back to her friends. These are not polled Herefords; they have long, amazing horns. Fitting her head into the opening took a certain twisting motion. But these cows have been through this many times as this testing is done annually. They know what to do. Not a one of them bawled, kicked around in the chute, or otherwise made a pest of herself.
Once the cow was secure in the chute, Charles went to work on the back end while Jenny worked back and forth, paying close attention to each cow’s health and status. Charles felt to see if each cow were pregnant and, if so, how far along, calling out the results. He also determined whether or not she needed an additional blood draw and, if so, Jenny was right there to pass him a syringe. Jenny looked at the eyes if Val noticed something, being very careful to catch any abnormality. If there were any spot or blemish on an eye, Jenny then called Doc to make a judgment. Hereford cows are particularly prone to eye cancers because of their white faces. Jenny would also attach ear tags to those who had lost them, and check ear tattoo numbers before writing in her farm record book concerning instructions and follow-up.
Charles had gained permission for me to do this photo op by promising I would bring drinks and snacks for everyone, which I did. During the break, there was time for joshing and socializing before everyone went back to their posts. Jenny showed me on a smeared and cracked cell phone a picture of her second grandchild, a precious little baby. I said, “Oh, Jenny, isn’t it fun having grandchildren!” She raised her eyebrows and said, “I don’t play with the baby much. Get enough of babies at the hospital. But now–the three-year-old. We have a great time!”
Speaking of children, Jenny has been dealing with cows since before her first son, Coleman, was born. In fact, Charles remembers a Monday morning years ago when he arrived at the Ratts-Harrison Farm to work some cows. There came Jenny with a tiny newborn in a papoose. He’d been born on Saturday and there she was out with her cows on Monday! Now that son is in the cattle business also, dedicated to giving cows a good life and to selling healthy, tasty beef to consumers. John and Jenny’s other son, Peyton Tyler, is also in agribusiness.
Charles said of the morning with the cows, “It’s a dirty job. But someone has to do it.” Obviously, he and his crew enjoyed the barn “party” to the fullest.