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SELLING THE CALVES

by Robert G. Cowser
Robert G. Cowser
In the late 1940s cattle auctions were common in the towns of Northeast Texas. Each town picked a different day of the week so as not to compete with nearby towns. Sulphur Springs held its auction on Mondays, Mt. Pleasant on Tuesdays, Paris on Wednesdays, and Winnsboro on Fridays. Most of the livestock bought by buyers from local meat-packing plants were calves born in the spring and sold in the late summer or early autumn.

On our farm near Saltillo my father kept a herd of thirty Jersey cows as breeders. He bred the cows to a Hereford bull because the Jersey cows produced more milk than Hereford cows and the milk from the Jerseys was higher in butterfat.
Cow and calf, Lampasas Texas post office mural
Lampasas Post Office Mural (detail)
"Afternoon on a Texas Ranch" by Ethel Edwards. TE Photo
On the days my father sent the calves to auction my brother and I, who were teenagers, and my father awoke early, ate breakfast hurriedly, and went to the pasture. We did not own a horse, so we herded the cows whose calves would be sold and their calves to the loading pen at the roadside. Sometimes two or three neighbors would help drive the cattle to the loading pen. Unlike the stereotypical cattle owner, neither my father nor my brother and I wore boots or wide-brimmed hats. Daddy wore brogans and an old felt Fedora, and my brother and I wore moccasins and baseball caps. When the herd arrived at the pen, Daddy took a cane and prodded the calves he wanted to sell into the small enclosure. My father paid a local man who owned a two-ton truck with side rails to take the calves to whichever town had a sale that day. The calves were forced down a narrow chute and into the waiting truck. The bed could hold six or seven calves, weighing as much as 350 pounds each.

Two hours or so after the trucker drove the calves to the sale barn, my father, my brother, and I would drive to the town where the barn was holding an auction that day was located. These were memorable days for my brother and me, for on those days we went to a movie. Weekday matinees were common then. In Sulphur Springs we saw the feature at the Carnation Theatre, in Mt. Pleasant we went to the Martin Theatre, and in Winnsboro to the State Theatre (always 20 degrees cooler inside).

My father gave my brother and me one cow each. We could claim the money from the sale of the calf the cow produced. On the days when our calves were sold my brother and I usually bought a pair of shoes to wear to school the following fall. We also bought polo shirts and jeans as well as popular magazines. When we returned to the farm after the day of each auction, we could hear the lowing of the cows whose calves had been sold. Their udders were filled with milk. Not only did they miss their calves, but they were physically uncomfortable. The lowing of the cows became a mournful sound, especially because the daylight was failing. The next morning my father would check to see whether he needed to milk each cow. He wanted to prevent a possible infection, since it was possible one of the teats would burst from the pressure of the milk.

We rarely ate beef ourselves, but we provided the main course for a number of families as well as ground beef for the Dairy Queens in the towns.


Robert G. Cowser
November 22, 2010 Guest Column
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Robert G. Cowser

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