Tuesday, October 17, 2006


Another one of those mysteriously mutilated cows was found near the ranch of the Senior Citizen Center cook. She told me about it last week and I’ve been mulling it ever since. She said the cow was cut “on the back” and its ovaries and entire udder were “surgically removed.” Coyotes circled it, but didn’t touch the carcass. No autopsy results that she knew of. (There was another dead cow in the borrow pit on the way to Cut Bank that I passed the other day, but it was just road kill.)

Cows get killed all the time or just die on their own, but one cow can be worth plenty of money and bulls even more so. One rarely hears of mysteriously mutilated dead bulls. Cows near shooting ranges seem particularly endangered by shooters in vehicles, evidently seized by a mania to hit targets and a thirst for actual deaths. One might think that regular target ranges nearby would discourage the shooting of live creatures, which after all are not much of a challenge since they just stand there. It’s not a matter of hunting them -- they’re fenced.

My uncle, who ranched near Roseburg, OR, at the end of a road that turns to dirt and winds over the mountains to Diamond Lake, began to find dead cows with only one hind-quarter missing. Not consistently the same leg, but only one. Finally he was out in his pickup, his little dog hanging out the window over his arm, and heard a shot close enough by to get there while the culprit was still detaching the hind-quarter. It was a kid driving a Volkswagen beetle. He only took a hind-quarter because it was as much meat as he could get into his back seat. His mother ran a restaurant in Roseburg and they were using the meat for roast beef specials.

“Did you beat him up?” asked I, “Give him a damn good thrashing?”

“Oh, no! I don’t want to be in trouble with the law!” (He’d described how the law had been absolutely useless in terms of detecting this young cow killer and in fact he didn’t even press charges.)

“Did you shoot out his tires so he had to walk back to town?”

“Gosh, no! I wouldn’t do anything like that. It’s property destruction!” At least the kid was not stupid enough to do it again, even with such an accommodating rancher.

When times get hard, meat on the hoof disappears but usually after the cow has been killed. A few twisted people will shoot horses and leave them dying, much to the anguish of their owners and friends. There are always cat and dog shooters around. In livestock country it’s usually law that a dog harassing livestock can be shot if it’s caught in the act. And, of course, people shoot each other all the time.

At Multnomah County Animal Control I never did have to shoot dogs or coyotes either, but a part of our job was to distinguish between dog and coyote kills. Along the Columbia River and around the airport were many pastures and both animal kills and human rustling were not uncommon. In Oregon there is always mud, so we almost always had tracks to think about. It’s tougher on dry Montana prairie.

But we never had one of these mysterious mutilated cattle deaths which people always describe using the words “surgical precision,” “sexual organs,” and “no tracks whatsoever.” When I tried Googling some info, I brought up “The Cult of the Dead Cow,” and a lot of Halloween-type stuff. Nothing like lying in bed on a cold October night as the first snow begins to fall, considering the possibilities of cow mutilation. Thus I developed a theory which I delivered to the Senior Citizen Center cook today. (She was baking zucchini bread -- smelled great!)

Stealing a cow or even a calf in this country is bound to be noticed because people are so interested and knowledgable about cattle. But what if the culprits were after COW EGGS?? If they took the ovaries (sounds like a lot of work to me -- I don’t even know where a cow’s ovaries are, but wouldn’t it be likely that one would enter from the back?) maybe that’s what they were really after, not for strange rites but simply to fertilize in a petri dish with mail order bull sperm and then implant in another cow.

Rustle your cows while they’re still almost microscopic! Then you can take a lot in one “operation” and remove them discretely in a bucket of frozen nitrogen or something. Keep a herd of relatively cheap ordinary scrub cows, and let them miraculously give birth to top-of-the-line Angus! Take along the biological mother’s udder and then, if someone gets curious about the disparity in quality, do a switch on the DNA samples taken from the surrogate’s udder (Isn’t that where they’d get a sample?) and prove a match.

The cook, her helper, and the town clerk (whose office is just off the hall where seniors eat) didn’t scoff. They asked, “But who would do that? The government?” Which shows what a high opinion most people around here have of bureaucrats. I suggested more likely someone with access to remote land that no one checked often, running a seemingly ordinary herd.

The cook will circulate this idea and see if it flies. I told her that if I turned out to be right and if there were a reward, I’d split.

Too bad that drug-sniffing dog isn’t trained to smell cow eggs. The bit of Googling about “cattle mutilations” found they were often associated with mysterious black helicopters, which I myself have seen landing in our little airport. Homeland Security has checked out our local crop-duster, creating international news.

Nothing like a good conspiracy theory to keep a person warm. Lunch was ham balls. Sounds better than cow eggs.


Patia said...

Ham balls? Is that like the pork version of Rocky Mountain Oysters?

prairie mary said...

More like Swedish meatballs, though I hesitate to say so for fear of making the Swedes nervous.

Prairie Mary

Richard S. Wheeler said...

When I lived on the border of Arizona and Mexico, in the 70s, I discovered that the ranchers south of the line had an excellent method of upgrading their stock. I lived on a ranch that had a magnificent Charolais bull purchased from Stewart Granger and Jean Simmons, who lived nearby.

The bull lorded over some cows on a huge five or six-square-mile desert pasture along the border, all rough Sonoran desert. There was only one water source, a well inside a corral near the ranch house, where the bull lounged under a mesquite tree.

One day the white bull vanished. We saddled up and rode every corner of that huge pasture, hunted him in every gulch. But the bull had vanished. We watched for circling columns of vultures the next weeks but saw no sign of any death. Still no bull. He was gone. Then, six weeks later, he was miraculously back at his stand, lounging under the mesquite tree.

And the following spring, a lot of little white calves appeared in the herds south of the border.

prairie mary said...

Sounds as though white Charolais bulls can be just as magical as white buffalo bulls! Big Medicine, indeed!

Prairie Mary