Your Favorite Story: The Case of the Heavy Boots

As stated previously, chasing cows is not only a big deal but a way of life at the Kopperud Farm. Like a doctor who is on call, you have to be completely ready for any situation at any time even from a dead sleep. Ya know, one of us really should have been a doctor… Oh wait! I crack myself up… Anyway, my point is,  many times you can be awakened in the early morning hours and you have to chase cows. No ifs, ands, or buts about it. Get up and GO! You have 2 seconds to get dressed in the proper attire before you are expected to be miles away from the house and round up those thousand pound animals and make them go where you want them to go.

I really shouldn’t call it chasing cows when really it’s rounding up the cows and directing them where you want them to go. In the Kopperud family, we have a system that we follow. If you married into the family be prepared to get yelled at for being in the way at least for the first few times you join us. After that, you can do it in your sleep.

When I was around 10 years old, I had the wonderful privilege of being the only person home when the cows broke down the fence. This was before cell phones so without warning my Dad came bursting into the house and said “Let’s go! Cows are out and they’re headed to the tar road!” Sensing my father’s intensity I got up and threw on some old blue and white coveralls. Then I headed for the front porch to put my boots on. “Come on! What’s taking you so long?!” my father called out. “I can’t find my boots!” I yelled back. “Just put something on and let’s go!” The only boots that were available were a spare pair of my dad’s boots. He had several pairs so I slipped my feet into his boots and ran out the door. On my way up the hill through the tree’s and on my way down the gravel drive way I realized my choice in footwear was going to be a problem. Not only were his boots ginormous but I really couldn’t move very fast with their weight holding me down. “Hurry up!” my dad called out again. I could see him out in the field in waist high grass. My eyes went crossed. Not only was I doing my best to run in his giant boots, but I would have to run fast in waist high grass. I stood there wondering if I dare tell my dad, whose temper was already high, that I needed to run back to the house to change my shoes. “What are you doing just standing there? Let’s GO!” And then I knew what I had to do, I ran fast and hard through the waist high grass. I jumped and lifted my knees as high as I could so I wouldn’t trip on the grass. My boots were weighing me down. I did my best to keep up with my dad. I tried to stay right behind him so I could run in the grass he already knocked down. Then, the tall grass disappeared to reveal a small ravine. Dad leaped over the ravine like a graceful gazelle.  The ravine was only around 2 feet wide so under normal circumstances, this jump wouldn’t have fazed me, but since my legs were already feeling like lead weights from running in the boots, this small jump looked like the Grand Canyon. I looked up at my dad who was standing on the other bank, “Come on jump! I need you over here. What’s the matter with you? Jump!”

I didn’t want to argue with him because he was already frustrated that the cows broke down the fence that he would no doubt spend the rest of the day mending. AND to rub salt into the wound, his sons weren’t home to help him. All that was left was his little pip-squeak redhead.

I looked at him, and then back at the rustling water in front of me. “Okay Jesus, please help me make it to the other side.” I had full faith that I was going to make it. I took a few steps back so I could get a running start… “I can do this, I can do this”… step, step, JUMP! I jumped with all of my might. I threw my arms out to my sides like superman, spread eagle, as hard as my little body could handle and closed my eyes. I felt my feet lift off the ground. A small smile crossed my face and I knew I could make it. Just as soon as I thought “I’m going to make it” I felt my small feet hit the inside top of Dad’s boots. My lift off came to an abrupt halt. My face changed from the sweet bliss of a freeing smile to a look of terror. My body could make it to the other side, but not as long as those boots were attached to my feet. I had just enough momentum to make the toe’s of the boots slowly roll forward and shift. So there I was, the small bubbling water beneath me, mid air, and my face fast approaching the west bank of the ravine. “This isn’t going to be good” I thought to myself. Then, WHAM! I did a face plant straight into the other bank. From the waist down I was soaked in water. “Get up, Joanna, Get up! You have to chase cows. Dad’s already frustrated. Get up!” I thought to myself. It took all of my strength to stand up. When I got to the point where I had shaken the sense back into myself after the shock, I looked around for my dad. I thought for sure he would be angry at me for getting all wet. After all, this meant I would move slower with the water weight added to my already heavy load. I looked around but I couldn’t find my dad. I could see the cows grazing in the neighbors bean field, but my dad was nowhere in sight. Then, I heard him. He was breathing strangely and gasping for air. I saw some flattened grass on the edge of the field and then I heard his hysterical laughter. He was laughing so hard he couldn’t breathe. I walked over and stood next to him as tears rand down his face, he said, “THAT is the funniest thing I have ever seen!”

To this day, whenever we talk about chasing cows, this is the story my dad tells. If you ask him about it, he will start laughing and crying all at the same time. So, there you have it dad. I wrote my side of “Your Favorite Story.”

A Cattle Barn Love Story

There were many years when my brothers would be around to help my sister and me with the cows at the fair. However, in the later years, my brothers would go off to start practicing for college football season in early August so we were on our own. Sure, we could get the help of the 4-H boys in the barn if we really wanted. The other boys were always eager to help damsels in distress. Not to mention, they were just good, homegrown, country boys who were raised right and knew when to help a lady out. My sister and I would capitalize on our feminine wiles during fair week.

We were both pretty good at getting beef burgers from the beef stand or milkshakes from the dairy booth, without paying a penny for them. But, if it were a competition, I would have to give first prize to my dear little sister. Nobody could do it up like she did. She could bat her eyes and then a milkshake from the dairy farmer’s booth would just appear. A little wink and a smile from dear little Rebekah and BOOM a beef burger from the cattlemen’s beef stand would be in her hand. A small girlish giggle and seconds later I see one of the boys leading her heifer out to the water trough. A sad puppy dog face complete with a protruding lip and WHAM one of the boys has volunteered to “fit” her heifer for her the night before the show. It was miraculous to watch folks. She’s a talented lady.

Bernie as a calf… Nice fanny pack Bek!

There were other times when the assistance of the boys was a life or death situation. After all, we were dealing with large animals. One year my sister decided to show a cow/calf at the fair. She chose to bring Bernie. Bek had shown Bernie as a feeder calf a few years before and she was the sweetest little calf. It was no wonder that my sister felt a special bond with her. Then she brought her back to the fair again as a breeding heifer, and well why not bring her again with her calf? However, as Bernie got older she got meaner and meaner. Bernie was no longer that dear sweet little calf that followed my sister around like a puppy. She was a red 1,000+ pound mean machine. She was strong as an ox and knew how to throw her weight around.

At this point in time when you brought a cow/calf as a 4-H project you wouldn’t have to halter break either of them. However, if we had to, we could halter break her to show her at the state fair. Bernie had a halter on before so she should be used to it. We learned otherwise quickly. We thought we would just put a halter on her to transport her to the county fair. When we put a halter on Bernie she would buck her head up and down like a rodeo bull until we took it off. Like I said, she was a mean old b—–. So we would just put Bernie and her calf in a pen together and locked the gate behind them. They were free to roam freely in their little pen.

One night, Bek and I stayed at the fair a little longer than my parents. They had gone home after a long shift at the Cottonwood Cattlemen’s beef booth selling hamburgers and left my sister and I at the fair. Before they left Dad said, “Be sure those cattle are watered and fed before you come home.”

My sister and I made our way to the cattle barn. We led our breeding heifers out to water and my sister filled Bernie’s water bucket through the gate, if my tiny sister had stepped foot in that pen Bernie would have swallowed her whole, spit her out and then trampled the pieces. We were all set to go when Bernie decided it would be a great idea to not only step in her water bucket but tip it over and trample it. We knew we couldn’t leave her with no water so like the brave sister I am, I said, “I’ll go in and put the bucket back where it belongs.” My sister replied, “No don’t go in there. Joe (a 4-H boy) is sitting right outside the barn. I’ll go see if he can help us.” Looking back, I know that my sister was wise beyond her years. Yes, her idea would have been the better choice, but because I have too much pride, I replied, “Oh it will be fine. We don’t need boys to do EVERYTHING for us. You stand in that corner outside the fence and feed her some hay. I’ll sneak in the opposite corner by the gate and fix the water bucket. I’ll be in and out fast. She won’t even know I was in there.” The plan seemed to be a good idea. For the first half a second, it actually worked! My sister agreed and did her best to distract the old cow for as long as she could.

I swiftly opened the old yellow gate and slipped inside like the ginja ninja I am and then shut the gate behind me to ensure that the calf wouldn’t escape. Then it happened. As I wrestled with the water bucket trying to stabilize it against the gate, Bernie made her move. My back was turned to her and I was bent over wrestling with the bucket, trying to get it to stand on its own after the brutal trampling. She quietly yet quickly turned her body around, I heard my sister say “Joanna…” But I almost had the bucket back into place so I ignored her. “Joanna…” she said a little louder this time. Finally, I got the bucket untangled and put back into place. Oozing with pride that my plan worked I stood up and SLAM! Bernie had turned around and positioned herself behind me. She hooked her nose low under my bum and whipped her head straight up. She had me pinned up against the fence, my feet dangling off the ground beneath me. My face and body were pressed up against the gate. She knocked the wind straight out of my lungs so I couldn’t make a sound. She held me there, pressing harder and harder into my lower back with her long face. “JOANNA!” My sister screamed as she ran past me and headed towards the front doors of the barn screaming for help. Joe had already heard my sister’s screams and rushed to the pen. He flung the gate open and I could feel Bernie’s body shift slightly from side to side as Joe threw his whole body into her shoulder like a line backer trying to get her to release me from my pinned up prison. Finally, he was able to shift her off balance and I came tumbling down onto my bottom in the middle of the cow pen. Heaving, trying to catch my breath I realized I was sitting in the middle of an angry cow’s pen. I crawled as fast as I could out of the gate and Joe ran out shutting the gate behind us both.

As I lay there on the cold dirt floor of the barn, clinging to my life, coughing still trying to catch the last and final breath of my life, I looked around to find that I was alone. The bright sun light from the evening sunset showed through the large open barn doors, burning my pupils as I squinted and tried to make out the picture… there they were, side by side walking away from me as if nothing happened. I could see two silhouettes walking into the sunset, gazing into each other’s eyes. Of course, she was only 10 and he was 18 so the love story only began that day. (HAHA just kidding Joe I know you aren’t that much older than her) They were married on May 27th, 2006 and now have two beautiful boys.

Ok so, MAYBE the story is a little dramatic. But you know what, it’s MY story told from MY perspective. This story is a true story with only some SLIGHT exaggerations. I guess there’s something irresistible about a guy who comes to… your sister’s rescue? But who am I to judge? Jesus clearly knew what he was doing that day. He let me live and He sprouted an epic cattle barn love story.

The end of my favorite season…

As I close my eyes, I feel the cool air on my face in the basement of the old barn. I remember sitting on the old wooden fence  just waiting for my favorite spring activity to begin. I try to keep warm as the smell of hay and animals fills the air. “Shhh… you kids have to be quiet and sit still” my mother whispers, both of those things not easy for 4 children under the age of 10 especially on this cold evening. I hear the soft moans of the cows and the vicious scratching the dogs are making on the barn door. They are not allowed in for this wonderful event. We wait and wait for the glorious calf to emerge from his mother. The miracle of child birth is about to begin. I still remember the smells: the straw my dad was throwing around the pen to keep the new born calf warm, the cows, and the old barn. Takes me back to those wonderful days of spring time on the farm…

I remember my dad spending so many cold days and nights in the barn tending to his “ladies”. Most of it was just sitting on the fence trying to be quiet and stay out of the way. If we had to leave the farm, he was always headed right back down to the barn when we got home. If we wanted to see him, we had to go to the barn. I remember the first time I ever saw a cows water break I was in my 20’s “EW I didn’t know that happened!” To which my dad replied, “I left you kids in the house until after the water broke so you wouldn’t get so restless waiting for the calf to come out.” 

My dad has a small herd of Red Angus Cross ladies that he pays special attention to every spring. To this day, I look forward to my weekly phone call with the “calving updates”. “How many did you have this week dad?” Now, it’s getting more exciting as I not only get his calving update I get my brothers and sisters as well. The stories will never get old. There’s always a new and exciting story about having to “pull the calf”, “stupid cow keeps jumping over the fence to get away from her calf”, “that one can never find her calf”, “oh I think this might be her last year calving”, or my personal favorite “have to perform a C- section. Want to help?”  (This experience will be another blog post entirely)

At one point in time my dad decided my brother needed to own some of his own cattle when we were younger. A small herd of baby dairy calves was purchased and Matt started on his quest. One of the best things about baby calves: they will suck on anything. I remember this particular instance my siblings and I decided it would be a fun game if we all tried to get a calf on each of our fingers.  While the 3 older siblings were having a ball tempting the babies with our wiggling fingers, no one was watching my baby sister. She thought the game would be fun too! She was old enough to understand the game; however, she was not physically large enough to participate. the older kids were all having a ball stealing each other’s calves from the other because there weren’t enough for all of us and then we heard it, a loud blood curdling scream from the corner of the large calf pen escaped my sisters lips. My head jerked to the side to look at the tiny creature it came from. As I looked closer I realized I couldn’t see her arm… Only one baby calf had decided to suck on her fingers. However, she was too small and the calf decided her fingers were not pleasurable enough for its “needs”. He had sucked her entire hand, forearm, and elbow down its throat. All the way up to her tiny little shoulder! OOPS! My brothers raced over to her rescue and yanked her arm out of the calf’s mouth. She was fine. Just a little shook up. Definitely a story her children will be hearing!

I have so many fond memories from the years of calving season. I remember being woken up early in the morning to my mom’s voice saying, “another calf is being born, get out to the barn if you want to watch!” I also remember coming downstairs for breakfast only to see a little baby calf on the living room floor shivering from cold covered in my mom’s old rugs and blankets. I remember racing down to the “calf huts” to help bottle feed the calves whose mom’s abandoned them or died during delivery. I remember getting to the basement of the barn and trying to avoid all the “mud” so I could get to the cattle pen and see the newest member of our herd. I remember running so fast to get to the basement of the barn that I fell down the steep steps, only to get into trouble for making too much noise and spooking the cow.

These little creatures were the instruments used in shaping my young life of responsibility. A very wise man once said to me “Think of it like this, you’re holding $200 in your hand. If this baby isn’t taken care of and dies, the money is gone too” Those are pretty profound words for a 5 year old to hear. The long hours spent working to keep each little calf alive was exactly what I needed in my young life. I’m thankful for the opportunities that I had growing up on the small farm. They have shaped me into the responsible woman I am today!

The calf that was born on our wedding day. Unfortunately, the momma wouldn’t let us get closer than this.