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Copyright 2013 Rocky Mountain Rider. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. Reproduction of any editorial material, artwork and photos is strictly forbidden without express written permission of the publisher. For information about reprint rights, please contact the editor;


Cold Cow

By Dawn Nelson, Creston, WA


February 2013 issue  


      It was a cold, icy February afternoon on our cattle ranch which is located near the flat, scab rock and sagebrush-populated town of Creston , Washington. My husband, wanting to visit a friend, asked if I could take care of the ranch by myself with the help of my almost five-year-old, daughter. I was determined to show him I could most definitely take care of the ranch while he was away, so I agreed.  


Cold Cow by Dawn Nelson

      The temperature that afternoon was well below freezing and with it being that cold I had to break the ice with an ax on the large water troughs at least twice a day. Our water troughs are homemade, three-foot-deep, twenty-by-twenty concrete troughs.

      On that particular day, I had already fed the cattle herds and had busted the ice on the troughs once. It was about two in the afternoon when I headed out to check the cows and break the ice again.

      Our cattle were split into three different herds that year, registered Gelbvieh cows and Balancers in one, registered Angus in one, and commercial cattle in the third. When I checked the first herd, I found two new calves. After tagging them, I checked the second herd. Five calves. So again, I tagged the calves and went on to the third and final herd for the evening.

      I checked the herd and found four new calves, which I weighed and tagged, and then drove down to break the trough that provides water for both the second and third herds.  


      By this time, my daughter had fallen asleep on the front seat, so I quietly got out and grabbed the ax to break the ice, trying not to wake her up while opening or shutting the door.

      That is when I saw it — a large black nose and two eyes sticking out of the trough — but nothing else! My mind quickly made the realization that I was looking at a cow who was in serious trouble and who, for some unknown reason, had decided to go for a swim that day.

      I quickly jumped onto the frozen ice and made my way out to the cow. As I neared her, I saw her eyes following me and breathed a slight sigh of relief as I realized she was, at least, alive. I figured the cow must have tried to get to the running water hose at the far side of the trough as her side was froze solid.

      “Don’t worry, old girl, I will get you out of there. I promise,” I quietly told the cow as I chopped at the ice in front of her hoping to break a path out for her.

      After my sixth chop on the ice, the cow moved a bit and tried to regain her footing. However, with the cold water and the slick concrete trough bottom she instead broke more of the ice.

      A cracking sound caught me off guard as the ice broke beneath me and sent me almost waist-deep in the freezing cold water. I cursed as the cold water hit my legs and other parts that are not really what I classify as “cold water friendly.”

      After that, I waded back to where the cow was and tried to help her get to her feet. After a few feeble attempts, I realized that it wasn’t any use; she was old and the freezing cold water had made her weak.

      I knew I was going to have to go get the tractor. I left the pickup with my sleeping daughter and quickly ran the whole way to the barn where the tractor was.

      As I ran my coveralls got stiffer and stiffer. I knew they were freezing from the water. I knew I had to hurry or the cow would be dead. I knew I was as cold as my freezing coveralls, but with the adrenaline running through me, it didn’t register at that moment that I could be in danger of pneumonia.  


      Within fifteen minutes, I was back to the trough with the tractor and a couple chains prepared to lift the cow out of the trough. I fastened a chain around her girth and was able to lift her out and lay her down on the ground near the trough. I quickly unhooked the chain and tried to get her to stand. She fought me a few times then gave up.

      I knew that I had to get her dry or she was going to freeze to death. Hastily I searched the pickup for towels or anything to dry her with. No luck was mine to be had.

      So I took off my jacket and started rubbing her — hard — with it. After a few moments she began shivering and I knew I was getting a little warmth back into her body. 

      It wasn’t long, however, until my jacket was soaking wet and starting to freeze from the water. I tossed it aside and took off my sweatshirt and started rubbing her with that. She shivered more violently. 

      The cow tried to stand once and then fell back down again. By this time I had been working on her about twenty minutes to a half hour. I rubbed her legs and tried to get her dry but it wasn’t long before my sweatshirt was saturated and also starting to get hard from the wind and freezing cold.

      I tossed it aside and took off my T-shirt. I was able to get the main part of her body dry to the touch and was feeling like I was making progress finally. Again I worked on her legs trying to get more blood flowing to them. I could hear her grinding her teeth and knew she was in pain, the good thing about her being able to feel pain was that I knew she was alive and had some feeling in her body at that point.

      Before long my t-shirt was soaking wet and not doing much good. Darkness was setting in as I slipped off my thermal wool undershirt. I rubbed and worked on her legs frantically. I knew I had to get the cow up and moving quickly or she wasn’t going to stand a chance with the temperature dropping.  


      About twenty minutes later, the cow stood up and started back towards the herd slowly and unsteadily. I stood watching her, proud of myself for what I had done. I gathered up my wet clothes, tossed them onto the flat bed and climbed in to the truck as I realized I was shivering myself.

      “Mom, where are we?” came the sleepy voice of my daughter who had just woken up beside me on the seat.

      I looked over at her and smiled despite my shivering. “Checking cows, Sweetie,” I said, as she opened her eyes and looked at me.

      She wiped her eyes and gave me a strange look and innocently asked. “Why are you wearing only a bra?”


      “Cold Cow” is excerpted from award-winning author Dawn Nelson’s A Cowgirl Always Gets Even. Published by Gray Dog Press 2012.


Copyright 2013 Rocky Mountain Rider. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. Reproduction of any editorial material, artwork and photos is strictly forbidden without express written permission of the publisher. For information about reprint rights, please contact the editor;

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