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You can't keep a good farm dog down

"We were instructed to keep her clean and dry and calm, all states of being that Cocoa doesn't usually enjoy."

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Cocoa had a cone for a day or so after visiting the vet for her broken toe. Contributed / Brandon Schlecht
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A couple months ago, we were deep in the throes of cattle working . Oftentimes, I had a four-legged helper in my work bringing cattle in through the sorting pens and into the tub and alley system.

Helper may not exactly be the right word in this instance. Nuisance is more like it.

Cocoa has the natural herding instincts of an Australian Shepherd, and she has been invaluable in open spaces like pastures and even sometimes in pens. One time, a load of calves arrived when I was the only one home. Following my instructions, I tried to move them into the appropriate pen, only to find that gates had been left open and the calves, in calf fashion, took off to the farthest point from where they were supposed to be. Cocoa helped me round them up and put them back.

But in the tight confines of the sorting pens and the tub and alley, Cocoa's instincts to bite heels and move quickly are less than helpful, given that her humans have not exactly trainer her well. And since she likes to stick right by my side at those times, apparently to protect me, she also makes my job a bit more dangerous since the cattle sometimes like to fight back.

One night, a few days before Thanksgiving, my husband, father-in-law and Cocoa had brought in a big bunch of cattle to be worked that evening. She had been helpful, quite in her element, my husband reported. My daughters — one of whom usually keeps cattle moving in the alley way while the other dances and sings for us — and I arrived just in time to do our jobs. I brought the first group in and noticed that my four-legged friend was instead darting around on three-legs, presumably injured from getting kicked or stepped on while bringing the cows in.

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Since it's not unusual for our active little dog to come up limping on occasion, we didn't worry right away. We locked her up in the office to keep her — and me — out of harm's way. But when she didn't put her paw down the next day or the one after, we knew something more was wrong. The diagnosis was a single broken toe — an unusual case, the vet said, since most dogs with that kind of injury have broken multiple toes.

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Cocoa had a cone for a day or so after visiting the vet for her broken toe. Contributed / Brandon Schlecht

We were instructed to keep her clean and dry and calm, all states of being that Cocoa doesn't usually enjoy. She has a snug little kennel in our garage, with a warm bed and plenty of food. For a week or two after her injury, she was pretty happy to spend most of her time recuperating there. But as she felt better, she'd take off from the house during her brief moments of freedom, looking for some action at the feedlot or elsewhere. She'd chase cats or look for something dead to roll in. Thankfully, she only gnawed her cast off one time, and the vet promptly replaced it the next day.

Finally, around New Year's, her cast was removed for good with instructions to keep her away from the cows for at least a couple weeks. After a few days of re-learning how to put her paw down, she was fully back to her lively farm life, exploring, fighting with cats full-time and chasing her kids around.

She hasn't had the opportunity to chase any cattle since her accident, but I'm sure her day is coming. And she'll be back at it, with all the vigor of a farm dog who won't let a little broken bone stand between her and what she loves.

To read more of Jenny Schlecht's The Sorting Pen columns, click here.

Jenny Schlecht is Agweek's editor. She lives on a farm and ranch in Medina, North Dakota, with her husband and two daughters. She can be reached at jschlecht@agweek.com or 701-595-0425.

Related Topics: THE SORTING PEN
Jenny Schlecht is the editor of Agweek and Sugarbeet Grower Magazine. She lives on a farm and ranch near Medina, North Dakota, with her husband and two daughters. You can reach her at jschlecht@agweek.com or 701-595-0425.
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