Stories from the Stringam Family Ranches of Southern Alberta

From the 50s and 60s to today . . .



Saturday, June 17, 2017

Losing the Thumb (War)

Oh, sure. It looks harmless enough now . . .
Washing and scrubbing and blow-drying and trimming.
And brushing and brushing and brushing.
And clipping.
And trimming again.
And no, this isn't the local hairdressing salon on Prom day.
It's the local barn, as the local ranchers get their local cattle ready for show.
Oh, there are a few differences. The cattle have hair in more places, for one thing. They are a fair amount larger. They seldom cooperate.
And said grooming is sometimes dangerous.
Not things the average hairdresser worries about.
Moving on . . .
The first thing that must be accomplished before grooming can begin, is restraint.
Not us. Them.
Oddly enough, most cattle don't like the idea of getting wet.
And soapy.
And they like, even less, the sound of electrical gadgets in their vicinity.
They tend to head for the nearest far-away place.
With enthusiasm.
On the Stringam Ranch, restraint was accomplished by running them into a 'head-gate'.
A contraption designed to snap shut just behind the head and hold the animal, in an upright position, ready for grooming.
Picture a hairdresser, when she has tilted her patient back over the sink to wash . . .
Okay. Know what? Don't think of a hairdresser at all.
Because none of that applies here.
Back to my story . . .
With the animal thus confined, grooming can begin.
Simple.
But the fact is that when one gets up close and personal with something that outweighs one by 15 times, things can sometimes get . . . interesting.
Case in point:
We were grooming the two-year-old bulls.
For those who might not know, they are the male cattle.
Don't be mislead but their age.
Toddlers, they aren't.
Most of them weigh anywhere from 1500 to 2000 pounds.
Most of that muscle.
And bone.
With just a touch of aggression.
And a bit of stupidity.
I should explain, here, that a head gate works because the animal coming towards it can see daylight through it.
They lunge for what they see as freedom.
Now I'd like you to imagine the force 2000 pounds of solid muscle and bone can create when it is properly motivated.
Force which is brought to a crushing, bruising halt by the solid head gate as it snaps shut.
I know what you're thinking.
Probably best to keep one's hands and feet and appendages out of the way.
I didn't.
Remember the 'dangerous' part?
It comes in here.
Unthinkingly, I had rested my right hand on one of the uprights of the head gate.
And was watching as the next victim customer approached.
With alacrity. (Oooh. Good word!)
The bull hit the gate.
Then, realizing that he couldn't get out that way, immediately pulled back.
It was the pulling back that saved my hand.
Which had been caught between the upright and the metal plate that it snapped against.
Absorbing the entire force from 2000 pounds of mass.
On the run.
If the bull hadn't reacted as he had, my thumb would have been neatly and completely removed.
With surgical precision.
By the sharp, metal plate.
As he reared back, I gasped and jerked my hand away.
Then slumped against the fence as blackness threatened.
Dad looked at me curiously.
Everything had happened so fast that he hadn't seen it.
Wordlessly, I held out my hand.
The imprint of the plate could be plainly seen in the heavy, leather glove that I wore.
Which glove was also instrumental in saving my thumb.
Gently, Dad removed the glove.
As I gasped and swore breathed heavily.
The skin hadn't been broken, though there was a lively line of red where the plate had hit.
I was rushed to emergency, but subsequent x-rays showed that the bones hadn't even been broken.
A miracle.
When the pain and swelling subsided several weeks later, I was left with a numb thumb (something that continued for the next two years), and though the skin hadn't broken, a scar, which I carry to this day.
I learned some valuable things.
  1. When a piece of equipment carries the warning: Please keeps hands clear, there's a reason for the warning.
  2. Inattention begets injury.
and
  1. Two-year-old bulls look just fine the way they are.
  2. Fussing not required.
  3. Or appreciated
Mom always told me, and I quote, “You have to suffer to be beautiful.”
She never pointed out that I would suffer.
And something else would be beautiful.
I probably should have paid attention.

4 comments:

  1. For sure that lesson will stay with you for life.

    ReplyDelete
  2. Oh. My. Yikes!

    And it's amazing that you continued to recover function for so long. The body is an amazing thing, always trying to heal itself.

    ReplyDelete
  3. Ouch.
    Your mother's phrase was used here too - but never with the weight of a two year old bull behind it.
    I am glad that luck (or something) was on your side.

    ReplyDelete
  4. You certainly got lucky that day. A numb thumb for two years? Wow.

    ReplyDelete

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