The Adventures of Sugarfoot
She was only a few days old when we brought her home, still a dried umbilical cord hanging from her belly. She was lanky and wobbly in her little cow body. So soft with a huge wet nose. And to my surprise, she smelled just like baby powder. Her rich black coat was so black, it shined blue in the sunlight and her thick fur still wavy from being in the womb. She was black everywhere, except for one white back foot, like she had stepped into a bucket of white house paint. I remember going through the list of names for our new addition. Matilda, Jenny, Petunia and Rosy were a few I remember. My grandmother and I liked the girly names. My dad wanted to name her steak. I’m pretty sure it was my mom that came up with the name Sugar Foot. Sugar for short. Although I ended up calling her Moo’er most of her life, while my poor mom and grandmother called her quite a few other names through the years, names which I cannot mention here. But we’ll get to that later. Right now, Sugar Foot was a bounding baby calf that smelled like baby powder. Its true. Even as a grown cow she smelled like it. Her manure was another story.
So it was the weekend, I’d bound out of bed to get ready to feed the new baby. Three times a day we fed her. Her bottle was not petite. It was over a quart. Think of it like holding a wet, slippery plastic milk jug topped with a giant nipple. Then offer it up to a stampeding, voracious animal, lunging at you full force. She’d instinctively punch the bottle, like she did with her poor mother’s utter. In the professional land of dairy cows, when the calf rubs and butts the utter, it literally makes milk descend into the utter. They call this milk let-down. To me, to be head butted in the boobs repeatedly by my offspring seems more of a torture than an “awe that’s so cute” moment. So Sugar Foot would come charging from across the pen. I remember turning my back to her shielding from impact. After the first charge, she’d romp around me and grab the bottle full force. Nipple in mouth she’d head butt forward, usually slamming her little, but thick skull into my knee, hip or crush my hand pinning it to my body. Many times the bottle would go flying. I mentioned it was slippery to begin with, so add some head butts and you’d get a splash of milk across your face as the bottle took flight. Finally, bottle recovered, nipple in mouth, Sugar Foot would latch on with a force to be taken seriously. It was amazing to watch a quart of milk disappear through a torrent of bubbles rushing through the plastic bottle. I wondered if she even took a breath. Then the bottle would be empty. A few large squeaks as the last drops of milk emptied out and the bottle started to collapse due to massive calf suction. I had to pull hard to get the nipple out, and then usually I had to run. She always wanted more and would try to get the empty bottle nipple again. How fast could I dash out? Finally I resorted to throwing the bottle out of the stall into the hall of the barn. It was faster than trying to run. However, my mom was mad about the dirt getting onto the bottle and nipple, having to re-boil it. So I went back to sprinting out of the stall, letting Sugar Foot calm down with her full milk-belly. Then I’d go back in to a relaxed, sleepy little lanky calf. I could snuggle up with her in the hay and smell the powder.
As time went on, Sugar Foot grew. She was a great half Angus half Hereford Cow. I guess she took after the Angus side most, being almost all black. At a four months old she was big enough for my brother and I to hop on for a ride. It was more like a run, a spin and a fall, but it was fun none the less. It was actually pretty scary, but we had our own little rodeo, of which produced some lovely scraped knees, and stomped limbs that landed under cow hooves. After a while, we moved on to wrestling with Sugar Foot. She loved to head butt. If you had your back turned to her, you were in for it. If you ran, she’d give chase. The hit was even harder then. I’d stop, stand my ground and then squeal as she reached charging speed. Hands out front to stop her usually meant sore fingers, so I’d try to out run her and jump up on something. Then sometimes I’d just grab the on coming calf, wrap my arms around her neck and pull her down. She’s fall over, usually on top of me and we’d wrestle. I’d jump up and we’d run and repeat. She loved it. Every time my brother and I would go into the pasture, she’d start something. It was really fun. Calf wrestling. Who knew? However, in the long run, calf wrestling was a very, very bad idea. It was cute when she was this twenty pound little butterball, but later, at 700 pounds, it became down right deadly.
Time passed and Sugar Foot had become quite a large cow topping scales now at about 400 pounds. As if she wasn’t playful and zany enough as a calf, maturity started to happen. The calf became a cow, hormones began to flow and little Moo’er became a very big, very crazy cow.
The Jean Jacket:
In her adolescence, Sugar wanted to eat everything. Us kids took advantage of the fact, getting yelled at for feeding her a hot dog. “Gross, that’s cannibalism!” my mom would yell. “It’s bad for her!” my dad would say. But when you come home one day and find the sleeve of your jean jacket sticking out of your cow’s mouth, you gotta ask yourself if she’d been better off with a hot dog. There she was, just twelve inches of sleeve dangling from her jaws, that rocked back and forth chewing her blue-jean cud. My instinct was to grab the sleeve and pull, so that’s what I did. I expected to see the sleeve come out, but instead, Sugar Foot started to gag. I pulled harder as more of the sleeve emerged from the cow’s mouth, then more sleeve, then the collar, then the front. To my shock, she hadn’t gnawed off a sleeve and eaten it, she had slowly chewed, bit by bit and swallowed a complete, intact, jean jacket! Finally she continued to wretch as the last of the jacket, along with long trails of slobber was pulled free from her greedy cow mouth. I held up the jacket. It was soaked in drool and had tiny cut marks ever inch or so all over. She had eaten an inch, chewed awhile on the next segment, swallowed more, chewed more, swallowed more and so on. I wondered what would have happened if she swallowed the whole thing? Probably a sick cow and an expensive vet bill for my mom. From that day on I was careful where I laid my jackets, that’s for sure. Gross!
A Sick Cow?
One day when I was about 10 years old, my brother and I looked out into the pasture and saw Sugar Foot acting very strangely. She was staggering around the pasture, almost braying like a donkey would. She’d stumble sideways, almost fall over, kick up in the air and then lay down. We immediately called our mother, who called the vet. Everything raced through our minds while we waited a half an hour for the vet to arrive. Did she get into poison? Did we leave the feed room open and she is foundering? Did the horse kick her in the head? We couldn’t imagine what it was. Sugar began to run around again, kicking and whipping her head around. At one point she even charged the fence, hitting her head on a fence post. She stopped, shook her head, stepped back and with no resistance, completely fell over sideways and hit the ground. We figured she was dead. We ran out to her side and to our relief she was still breathing. She appeared to knock herself unconscious. Then the long white truck had arrived. The vet. She was a big woman, professional yet relaxed in her coat and boots. She carried her case out to the downed cow and knelt down beside her. “Vitals are good”, she said. We told her about the crazy antics of how Moo’er charged the fence.
So the vet got up and began to walk the pasture. She picked up some sticks, weeds and fruit, looked at manure, and walked to the front of the property. She slowly sauntered back to us, Sugar Foot now laying down but more alert. When she reached us, Sugar stood up, but swayed a bit. I think she knew the vet and hoped to run away, but couldn’t quite pull it off. “What’s wrong with her” Do you have any ideas? Do we need to do a blood test?” my mother asked. “No maim, she’ll be fine,” the vet replied. “Fine? She doesn’t look fine to me,” my mom replied. “Do you know what’s wrong with her?” she asked. “Yes, I’m very sure”, the vet replied. “Your cow is drunk!”, the vet laughed out loud. “What?” we all said in unison. The vet repeated, “Your cow is drunk, three sheets to the wind, wasted, wasted on grapefruit wine!”
It was April and a lot of the grapefruit were on the ground. We did our best to pick and sell fruit, but there was always more than we could handle. One year we had our friends come out and we all picked for a solid day, filling a huge truck with fruit. According to my parents they got a whopping $66 for the lot, so after that we’d pick what we could, invite others to pick and let the rest fall to the ground. As it turns out that the fallen grapefruit had naturally fermented on the ground and had become alcoholic. We saw the cow from time to time eating fallen fruit, but never thought anything of it. It turns out Sugar Foot was a lush!
Our property was five acres in total, but the corner of it wasn’t cleared and actually contained a small swamp, complete with low land, water, fierce mosquitoes, a few cypress trees and huge ferns that were over six feet tall. They were amazing. So huge they looked like something remanent of the dinosaur age. We ventured into the swamp only on dares and the muck was so deep in there, loosing shoes was always a high probability. The other part of our farm was mostly orange grove and my mom’s precious 1/4 acre lake. Also sectioned off was about one acre with a secondary fence and gate that made up where the house was built and our very large front yard. This inner acre was a kid’s sanctuary, for the crazy Sugar Foot was in the outer pasture with our two horses and our goat, William. More about why we considered it a sanctuary later. Now there were several days someone left the inner gate open. A poor latch job, or just not paying attention, we swore the farm animals would stand around waiting for that very opportunity, for in a matter of minutes, both horses and the cow would be in the front yard. One corner of our house was blackened from my mom’s horse Knight rubbing his black coat on the corner. The house was stucco so I guess it was as close to a horse massage as you could get.
My brother and I would spend tons of times chasing the animals around and around the house, around the pine trees in the front yard, and back around the house, trying again and again to flush them out the back gate into the pasture. Sometimes we were quite successful, while other times we seemed to be chasing them for hours. It was tricky to operate that back gate too. To have it open for the galloping horse on his way out to pasture, while the partner in crime horse ran back into the front yard as he passed by her. All the animals wore some sort of halter. I remember it not helping much. I caught Sugar Foot and with all my body weight, tried to pull her to get her to start walking. She just stood there, me dangling off her head, not even swayed by my efforts. Finally we’d get desperate and rummage the refrigerator for an apple of carrot to persuade them to follow us back out into the pasture.
The Garden Cow:
Anyway, it was a pretty hot summer day when the gate was left wide open. As I was walking up the driveway, I sighed, seeing the full pasture party going on at the north end of the house. The scratching, the munching of my mom’s plants and the grass and Sugar Foot standing boldly in the middle of my mom’s flower garden chewing away. As I approached I noticed something odd about the cow. She seemed to have something long and skinny hanging from her mouth. “Is she eating a snake?” I thought. Anything was possible. But as I got closer, it was in fact a long tube object…the garden hose. Like my jean jacket, the hose disappeared into her mouth and down her throat. How much she had eaten was a mystery. Once again I grabbed the hose and instinctively began to pull, and pull and pull. Out of her mouth and surely all the way down to her first cow stomach came five feet of garden hose covered in cow spit. Discusting! Luckily the hose wasn’t damaged too badly. Unlike my jean jacket, it was thick enough to withstand the cow molars and just a bit of the green outer coating had been scared. Later on when I told my brother what happened he got this fiendish look on his face. “You shouldn't have pulled it out,” he said. “You should have gone over to the spiggett and turned the water on. Drown the damn thing,” he laughed. “I doubt she’d have died, since the hose was to her stomach and passed her windpipe. It would have probably just made her pee a whole lot,” I laughed.
Now Sugar Foot was coming into her adolescence along with myself and my horse Susie Q. The farm had become a whole hot bed of crazy females and I swear women aren’t the only ones who get PMS. My horse became a major bitch every now and again, but Sugar Foot was much, much worse. The crazy girl cow was so confused, having never met another cow, none the less a bull. But to try and satisfy her urges she began to mount things, people and horses. It was an odd experience. You’d be standing their preoccupied with some task and you’d feel two cow legs lightly settle down on your shoulders. It was quite amazing really how light she mounted, her full 500 pounds all on her back legs. And then she’d just stand there and do nothing. The real problem arose when the mountee panicked and tried to escape. As long as the leverage remained unchanged, her 500 pound weight was abscent. But if you tried to run forward or duck out from under her legs, down came the weight of her onto you! We tried to explain to visiting parties, to just stand there and after a minute of two she’d just dismount. But it’s one thing to explain this to people, and another to ask them to remain calm in the actual experience. And sure enough, one fateful day, my Grandmother was out in the pasture hanging laundry, when she was mounted by the horney cow. She panicked and tried to duck down and out from under the big black forelegs. Sugar Foot lost her balance and lurched forward and one of her legs, hooves and all plowed into my Grandmother’s rib cage, cracking three ribs. I don’t rememberer Grandmother hanging much laundry for us after that.
Sugar Foot continued her sexual tirade and no one was safe. She was constantly mounting my mother’s horse, Knight. That is, until he got in the habit of kicking her when she tried it. This new farm animal battle led to both my brother and I being kicked by the horse. He’d mistaken us for Sugar Foot sneaking up behind him and sent us flying. Luckly neither of us were hurt too bad. Just bruises. It hurt like the devil though. I was super careful after that!
Photo credit: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=S76Sxzd6kXk
All in all it could be a lot worse. At my friend Wayne’s house, his cows got the taste for truck tires and car seat vinyl. Anyone visiting would be warned, as a small group of cows sauntered over to your 4x4 and began chewing on the tires. As a bonus, if the cab windows were down, which was most of the time in boiling Florida, the cows would stand up on their hind legs to get at the truck seats, gnawing on the driver’s side seat back. Cow teeth, while not dangerous, are pretty powerful. Here's some cows lined up trying to get a nibble. They’d rip out a chunk or two pretty quickly. Some people said they had a vitamin deficiency, I think they just liked licorice!
Photo Credit: https://cattletoday.com/forum/viewtopic.php?t=104495
Other Sugarfoot stories to come...
Mom, the lake and the hammer
Up an orange tree
The great escape
Moo’er for dinner