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How Does One Tell if a Cow is Pregnant?

So far this season, cows are helping to temper my longing for sled dogs.

Since I moved to Martinsdale, I've had the opportunity to help out on the Cameron Ranch. My friends, PJ and Spunky, work as cowhands on Gil's family spread just at the bottom of the Little Belts.

 I have the best of both worlds. I get to go play cowgirl on a beautiful ranch whenever the whim arises, and I can pass on those days when thirsty, snow-encrusted cattle stand and stare at the water troughs - ice frozen hard as concrete.

A few weeks ago, I helped Gil and the girls to pregnancy test cows. I was nominated the official record keeper and all around go-get-it girl.

I was also given the very important role of wiping the thick, greasy orange wax off the insides of the ears of cows that were missing tags. The wax needed to be cleared away in order to read their branded number.

After an entire day of earwax removal, I was amazed to find that my usually rough fingers and hands were now silky smooth. The girls and I decided that we should start scraping and bottling that wax to make hand cream out of it.

Unfortunately, this hand cream would be quite expensive because most cows don't stand still while I am trying to decipher their faded number hidden under a gooey layer of ear gum; no, they insist on thrashing their 300-lb. head this way and that way, snorting and spewing spittle in my face. "Karen's Bovine Blend" would be pricey stuff.

At the end of the second day of prego-testing, Gil asked if I wanted to give it a try. For those of you who don't know exactly how this process works, I'll give you a quick lo'down.

First, PJ and Spunky run around screaming and yelling and waving whips trying to separate momma cows even further away from their beloved babies (who they were weaned from just days before) into a tiny enclosed area, and then into a narrow aisle leading to the chute.

The cows are then pushed one at a time into a chute that holds them in place. At this point, the prego-tester proceeds to spread some lubricant and soap on a gloved hand and arm (or some, like Gil, go commando and skip the clumsy glove for a more accurate feel). Next, you stand close behind the cow in the chute, lift her tail, and insert your hand and arm into the rectum. The idea is to feel the back of the cow's uterus with your hand. After 30 days of gestation, the fetus should be about the size a softball and feel like a lumpy, bony ball in your hand.

I jumped at the chance to pregnancy test a cow. I was told that I would be a natural at this task; my long, skinny arms would make the experience more pleasant for both tester and cow. I hoped so.

Gil has a shirt cut just for the job - he hacked the arm off of a flannel button-up. I removed all of my layers and rolled up my long john shirt to my armpit. I did use a long glove; there is actually a lot of "crap" (pardon the expression) involved in this rectal procedure (imagine that?) and I didn't want to get seriously soiled. Gil explained the exact process, what it would feel like when, and talked me through it. I was thrilled to discover and feel the knotted ball myself - a new life in the making.

A few days later, I returned to the ranch to help move a herd of 100-some cows cross-country to another pasture about 5.5 miles away. Gil gave me a 4-wheeler and off we went. My first cattle drive.

Gil drove the "cake truck" which tempts the cows to follow.

I know you might be imaging a giant 5-tiered Almond Amaretto with Chocolate Marzipan cake sitting in the back of Gil's Ford with 100's of black angus following behind in a wide-eyed, sugar-lusting trance (I was), but this cake is really just a boring hard grain pellet that the cows go bovine over.

Once we got to an area too rough for the truck, PJ, Spunky, and a neighboring rancher took charge. We all bushwhacked across fields dense with hip-high sagebrush. A delicious, thick sage aroma filled my head, making me sneeze for days.

I followed along on my ATV, trying to help where I could.

Four hours later, the cows grazed in their fresh field, and I was covered in dust, dung, and cow spit. I still have a big smile on my face. Pushing cattle reminds me of the good 'ole days running dogs.

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