My career really started when I was 13. My great grandfather had a ranch in Young County, Texas.
He owned about 400 head of cattle, all Hereford, and about a dozen head of horses. He calved in the fall, hopefully after frost. Earlier calving or a late frost insured the newborn calves would be infested with screw worms, the maggots of tropical flies that ate living flesh, which would set up housekeeping in the fresh, raw navels of the baby calves.
The adult flies couldn’t survive the winter in North Texas but would ride the southern winds from Mexico every spring. They arrived by early June at the latest, although it was often mid-April if the conditions were right. That meant a strong southwesterly wind for a couple of days was all it took to bring on an early fly season.
It was horrible. The cattle would have to be gathered and the babies would have to be treated on their navel with a vile smelling concoction that would kill the maggots.
The ranch was in the Brazos River bottom and was very densely overgrown with brush and some of the cows were as elusive as deer, adept at evading capture. That meant that a smart cow’s calf might not be treated in a timely fashion.
Grandpa for his part kept searching until all missing cows were accounted for. Many days I was horseback all daylight hours. I loved it.
My horse, a gelding named Tuffy, was good at finding hidden calves. I learned to watch his ears, as often he would point them toward a bedded calf before I could see it. Since the brush was so thick, Tuffy and I were often alone and I was awarded credit for many calves really found by Tuffy. No matter. I was hooked on cows and horses by then.
This was the first and last year I was allowed to help. The very next year the screwworm eradication program, in which sterile male flies were released in South Texas and subsequently mated with female flies to produce non-viable eggs, brought the screwworm scourge to an end. And my grandpa was forced to sell the ranch due to the deteriorating health of my grandmother. It took most of my adult life to make it back to where I am today.