What's the Difference?

By Tyler Sweet
8th Grade, Siskiyou County
Grenada Elementary School - Debbi Hoy, Teacher

"Hey, Tyler, your quad is fast!" yelled my cousin, Zack, as he sped across our front pasture with me riding shotgun.

Because Zack was heading straight for one of our irrigation ditches at about thirty miles an hour, I screamed, "Watch out!"

Zack had just enough time to say, "Huh?" before he ran the quad head first into the half-filled ditch.

"What is this hole doing in the middle of your field, Tyler?"

I guess I should tell you that Zack is a city boy. He's smart, but sometimes I have to explain country life whenever he visits our ranch.

"Zack, this isn't a field; it's a pasture. This 'hole' is an irrigation ditch that delivers water to the grass."

"Why does your grass need water?"

"To grow into hay for cattle feed. Special stomachs allow our cattle to convert grass into milk and meat, which humans can eat," I replied, climbing out of the mud.

"Oh yeah. I get that. You do have a bunch of cows don't you? Say, where are they?"

As I helped Zack raise the quad out of the ditch, I suggested driving him to the back pasture where our cattle were grazing.

"Let's go!" Zack agreed, using his sleeve to wipe off his muddy face.

We drove slowly to the back pasture. Zack stood up and yelled, "Whoa! That cow is huge."

"Um, Zack, that's not a cow. That's our bull."

"Cow, bull, whatever. What's the difference?" Zack asked.

"A big one," I said sitting down. This explanation was going to take some time.

"Zack, a cow is a mature female who has had a calf. Now a male calf is called a bull calf."

I continued, "Now a mature bull is a male used for breeding purposes. It helps to make calves. Unlike a bull, a steer is castrated so it can't make babies. Grain-fed steers provide all your fine steaks, ribs, roasts, hamburger and liver."

"I'll pass on the liver. Wow, I didn't ever think about that before. I mean, in the city, we never see the whole steer, just the parts packaged by the supermarket. Hey, Tyler, it's getting dark. Don't you think we should be heading back to the house?"

"Good idea," I said.

"Oh, wait. Can we do some cow tipping on the way back?"

I almost didn't have the heart to tell Zack that cow tipping was just another one of those urban legends, but I did. "First of all, cows take short naps at certain times of the day or night, and they don't lock their legs when they sleep they actually lay down. Even if you could catch a cow sleeping, it would be too difficult to push one over because full size cattle can range anywhere from one to two thousand pounds. That's nearly the weight of a small car. Now that one-ton Angus bull lying down over there is taking a little snooze. If you still want to test that cow tipping legend, be my guest."

"Um, I don't think so, Tyler."

With that, we drove the quad back to my house. After my dad came home from work, we all sat down to a delicious roast beef dinner. Dad asked Zack if he'd like to help us brand and vaccinate cattle tomorrow.

"Brand? What's that about?" Zack asked.

Dad explained that branding marks our cattle with a unique registered Rocker S sign, and vaccinating the cattle protects them from various diseases.

"Would you like to help?" Dad asked.

"Yeah! That's real cowboy stuff!" Zack replied.

After dinner, Zack and I hit the hay early. Even so, I had to shake Zack awake at daybreak. After breakfast, we chased 24 new calves into a holding pen and then vaccinated them with a syringe. Finally we branded them, using a hot metal rod.

After that, Zack's dad came to take him back to the city. As they drove slowly away, I heard his Dad say, "That's one big cow, son."

Zack smiled and said, "That's not a cow, Dad. That's a bull."

"Cow, bull, what's the difference?"