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My Son And The Marker Cow

The marker cow is one of the many sayings and rules in the beef industry, that sometimes are hard to really understand.

A good friend and neighbor stopped in the other day. His outfit has a fairly large cowherd utilizing primarily Angus and Gelbvieh genetics. He remarked that they’d just selected their replacement females and, as had been the case for as long as I’ve known him, he kept a white heifer. It was the remnant of a purchase of Charolais cows quite a few years ago.

That’s nothing unusual, but he made the comment that “we always need a marker cow in the pasture.” As soon as he pulled out of the yard, my 11-year-old son asked what a marker cow was. He hadn’t asked at the time because all of us seemed to understand and he didn’t want to look foolish.

I told him it was just a special marked cow that was easy to identify and people call it a marker cow. When he asked why, I explained to him that there was a school of thought that if one could see the marker cow that the others were in. He saw how ridiculous that argument was, so I said it was just something we say.

As is often the case, his follow-up statement had a lot of wisdom in it. He opined that what makes running cows so difficult is that “you guys have all these rules and sayings and most of the time they don’t really mean anything.” I didn’t have the foresight to ask him what other things he was referring to, but I suppose we could fill a book with terms like marker cows.

Of course, this is the same kid who fell off his horse quite a few years back and, as I was brushing him off, I advised him that he needed to get right back on that horse. He looked at me and said he could understand that advice if he was five miles from home, but he could walk to the barn from where we stood.

When I explained that the idea was to overcome his fear and reinforce his authority over the horse, he simply handed me the reins and said, “I’m not scared now and won’t be scared in the morning. My back hurts, and you can ride him if you want, but I’m going to the house.”

I put my foot down; after all, this was a matter of principle. So my son got on the horse, rode around a little and headed back to the barn. As I helped him dismount, I was kind of hoping for some vindication, but he simply stated, “I think both me and the horse would have been happier quitting earlier.”

Ever since then, when my son questions a pearl of my wisdom, I just resort to the “just because” response.