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Pincie Creek Australian Shepherds

About our breed

© 2000 by Roger D. Stevens
As told to Elaine C.  Stevens

The part of Alabama we live in is close to the Choctawhatchee River on the west and the Chattahoochee River on the east. Many small streams and creeks, tributaries of these rivers, flow through the pastures and woods. Incidentally, Bear Creek flows about halfway between the two rivers, and Pincie Creek flows into Bear Creek. Just a few miles south of us, over the Florida state line, the low water table causes many very wet areas, some of them with standing water year round, which grow lush vegetation. These conditions form marshy, swampy areas thick with brambles and brush -- ideal places for cattle to hide and seek relief from the hot summer sun and insects. And also from people. Most of the cattle around here are Brahma crosses, bred for hot weather and their protective mothering ability. Many of them only see humans once a year, when they are penned (if their owners are lucky) in order for their calves to be weaned and for annual vaccinations and "doctoring". We call these cattle "swamp cows" because they spend as much of their lives in the swamps as they can, avoiding people at all costs. They are not known for their friendly dispositions and can be extremely difficult to deal with. In addition, most of them are horned, which enables them to protect themselves and their calves from local predators such as wild dogs and the ever increasing population of coyotes.

One of our favorite neighbors is a gentleman named Snell Reeves. Snell is a colorful character, both verbally and physically. With his long gray beard and clearly country vernacular, he reminds one of a misplaced mountain man. Snell is a farmer and raises commercial beef cattle. One day a couple of years ago, he came by to see us and asked if I could help him pen a cow. Knowing that a portion of Snell's pastures border the river, I asked if this was a swamp cow. And naturally, she was. When I asked when she had been penned last, Snell replied, "Well, she hasnít been in a pen in about four years. I see her occasionally, but thatís it. She always raises a good calf, she's just hard to ever get in the pen. I got all of them up this time but her and I've decided if I ever get her in the pen again, she's going straight to the sale. I'm getting too old to be bothered with a fool like her."

I don't really like to use our dogs on swamp cows because they can be very dangerous, to the dogs and to the handler. Besides not being used to dogs, these cows are mean and very serious about it. They will run over you and the dog if they can and not think twice about it. But Snell is a good friend and since suffering a stroke a few years back is partially disabled, so I decided to try and help him out.

For jobs like this one, Bear is normally the "Main Man", with Mac as a back up. Since Bear is now semi-retired, Mac and Osceola are taking on more of the rough stuff with Syd and Sonny as back-ups. Mac thrives on dangerous situations. The rougher it gets, the better he likes it. Sometimes we think he has a suicide wish and attempts to carry it out while working cattle. He knows no fear of any kind and will tackle the wildest and meanest swamp cow with no hesitation. This sometimes is to Macís detriment since when he gets very excited on a wild cow chase, he can forget to think like he should. Since even Mac has his physical limitations, for Snellís job I decided to take two dogs - Mac for the rough stuff and Bear as backup, to hold flanks, and take over when Mac tired out.

The next afternoon I took my dogs to see what I could do about the cow. This particular pasture consists of about 200 acres and is divided almost equally in half by a large, deep drainage ditch that runs vertically between the two sections of the pasture. The ditch, or ravine, drains excess run-off water to the river, which forms one boundary of the pasture. Along the river is the typical thick, swampy brush. The lay-out is shaped like a "T" with the river forming the top bar running from left to right, and the ditch forming the leg of the "T", running from top to bottom. Snell's pen was about a mile away so in order to pen the cow she would have to be driven about a mile, if everything went according to plan and the cow would drive in a straight line. Which as anyone whoís penned swamp cows knows, ainít gonna happen.

I had to cross some open farmland to get to the pasture. When I came into sight of the pasture, I saw the cow about a half mile away, standing in the east side of the pasture, close to the catch pen. She was a swamp cow, all right, and a big one -- black, probably a Brangus or cross, with an impressive set of horns. As soon as I spotted her I slowed down and tried to creep along but the swamp cow saw me, wheeled, threw her tail in the air, and took off into the woods.

Knowing she would be hard to find, I sent Bear in the woods to locate her, because Bear is an excellent tracker. When Bear barked I knew Bear had found the cow, and could tell about where she was. She was still in the mouth of the ditch, at the edge of the river, deep in very thick brush and briars. Hoping to keep the cow from going to the river, I told Bear to "bring her" and when I could see briars and brush moving, I knew exactly where the cow was. When working in thick brush, sometimes thereís not really room for two dogs; if the cow starts turning and fighting, one can get caught with nowhere to go and be trampled. So I called Bear out, then sent Mac in to keep the cow moving up the ditch. Now when I say "ditch", thatís an understatement. This part of the ditch was about sixty feet wide and easily deep enough to set two normal sized houses in it on top of one another, and the roofs still not be at the top of the ditch.

Mac went in at 100 mph. He knew he was going to have some fun this day. Soon there was a terrible commotion, I could hear all kinds of limbs breaking and hooves pounding and a cow bawling and bellowing, then finally there was a snort and a blow, and I knew Mac had gotten a good hold on either the nose or the ear and sheíd had enough for the moment. Out of the ditch came the cow with Mac in hot pursuit. The only problem was that she came out on the WEST side of the ditch, which was the opposite side from the catch pen. As she went up the ravine wall I had my first good look at the cow, and could see a big black angry beast with broken horns and missing part of the left ear, probably war medals from defending her calves from coyotes. With Mac driving and Bear holding the outer flank, I tried to drive her through the woods to keep her away from the ditch until I could work my way around and see if there was a catch pen on the west side of the pasture. Oh no, she wasn't going that way. She'd already figured out someone was trying to put her in a pen and she wasn't going!! So she turned and back down the bank she went, slipping and sliding, into the ravine again -- with Mac right behind her.

The bottom of the ravine was narrow and resembled a small canyon, with lots of rocks. The brush had also grown up so that it was very thick, and rough going for both a cow and a dog. It was so thick I couldn't see exactly where the cow and Mac were, but I could sure hear them. It sounded like a herd of elephants coming down the ravine. After bringing her about a quarter of a mile up the ravine, I saw a path going up the other side. So -- that's where the cattle had been going crossing the ravine in order to graze both sides of the pastureÖthe cow should be used to using that path. Now was the time to try and bring her up out of the ravine Ė AGAIN.

I told Mac to "bring her up" and after a few bites on the heel and nose to convince her that was the way she needed to go, the cow clambered up the other side of the ravine into the west half of the pasture, again headed away from the catch pen. About this time the swamp cow spied me and decided I was a very good target. There were some large oak trees spaced close together here, and those oak trees sure looked good to me about that time. I didnít hesitate to claim one as my friend. The sorting stick I had brought with me seemed insignificant compared to the 1600 pound freight train that was rapidly bearing down on me, puffing smoke all the way. But like any good cow dogs will do, Bear and Mac came to the rescue of the boss because part of the deal is Ė they donít have driverís licenses and the boss has to drive them wherever they go. If the boss is out of commission, they donít go anywhere. So they came to my rescue and got on the cowís head and heels until she turned from me and concentrated on them.

After they lured the cow about fifty feet away from me, I pulled them off and let things settle down. The cow was moving out toward an open pasture and I then sent Mac to hold the right flank and Bear to the left flank in an attempt to keep her under control until we could find a pen to put her in. Snellís was on the opposite side of the ditch, and I wasnít about to try and take her across that ditch again. We were also running out of daylight and I knew we had to do something with her within the next thirty minutes or forget her for the night and start all over again tomorrow, heaven forbid.

The cow had now reached open pasture, and there was one lone oak tree in a corner of the pasture. I headed for the corner for two reasons Ė to see if I could spot a catch pen anywhere and also so I could use the tree for protection if needed (not necessarily listed in order of importance). Bear was still on the cowís left flank, between the cow and me. Mac was on the right flank. The cow was moving rather slowly, head in the air, trying to decide what her next move would be. I knew once we were entirely in the open she would probably pick me as her target again so I kept flanking Bear around, keeping him between me and the cow, and at the same time moving Mac up, too. It seemed that the movement of the two dogs held her attention and she wasnít as focused on me. She didnít really spy me again until I got fairly close to the tree Ė then she lowered her head and before she could start for me I flanked Bear to her head, about fifty feet from the cow. She stopped, looked at Bear, turned and looked at Mac, and then tried to run over Mac. The expression on Macís face was priceless Ė he had died and gone to Heaven!! Here was a cow that was actually trying to run over him!! He didnít even have to go to her; she was coming to him. The cow tried to hook Mac with her horns but Mac moved to the side and when her head came around he grabbed her right ear. Then he got her nose, the cow turned, saw Bear, and started toward an antique three strand barbed wire fence that separated Snell's pasture from his neighbor's. I didn't have much hope that the fence would stop the cow and sure enough, it didn't. She lowered her head, put it between the top and second strands of wire, and went through the fence without breaking stride. Now there was big trouble, because she had just gone through the only barrier between this cow and a busy four-lane highway about 220 yards away.

Bear was on the outside flank, closest to the cowís head, so I told him to "Go by, get out, and stop that crazy cow." He went out wide to get ahead, caught the cow about 75 yard from the highway, and turned her back toward the pasture. I found a field road in the neighborís peanut field and with the dogs flanking each side, brought the cow up the field road and around a curve.

Low and behold, and thank goodness, around the curve was a house and wonder of wonders, it looked like a big catch pen, or really a catch pasture, since it was about five acres in size. About that time I noticed a familiar face, a friend named Ronnie, coming out of the house to see what all the commotion was about. That cow needed to be penned somewhere and quick as darkness was falling rapidly and the dogs (and I) were tired. I yelled to Ronnie, "I need to use your catch pen." He said, "Sure, Iíll open the gate". He opened the gate, I sent Bear to the cowís left to turn her toward the gate. The cow saw the opening and headed for it immediately. Ronnie started waving his arms to shoo the cow in, and she started for him!! I sent Mac to stop her, and luckily he got in front of her just as Ronnie was making a run for the gate. She went through, Ronnie closed the gate, and everyone breathed a sigh of relief -- too soon. For about that time, Ronnie shouted, "Oh no, I forgot that the gate on the other side is open, and it goes to the river." And the swamp cow had already spotted it and was on the way to the gate and freedom.

By this time even enthusiastic Mac was worn out. I looked around for Bear to send him to stop the cow, and didn't see him. I thought, "Now where in the world has Bear run off to" and then suddenly I saw him -- without being told, Bear was on his way across the holding pen to try and stop the cow. Just in front of the open gate was a terrace about three feet high. Bear was gaining on the cow but hadn't quite overtaken her. He made a flying leap from the top of the terrace, turned in mid-air, bit the cow on the nose on his way down, then landed square, on all four feet, in the middle of the gate facing the cow head on. She blew one time then turned and trotted off. "Damn!" said Ronnie, who had been watching, spellbound. "How much does a dog like that cost?" "That one is not for sale at any price," I replied, "and neither is the other one."

After checking and making sure ALL the gates were secure, we called it a night and headed home. I called Snell and told him his cow was in Ronnieís catch pen. He thanked me for getting her in the pen but said he still didn't know how he was going to get her in his trailer and to the sale. I told him if he wanted the cow loaded, be over there in the morning at daylight. Snell said, "Well I've got a doctor's appointment at 7:30 and we'll never get her loaded by then." I told him, "Snell, thatís okay, Iíve got to be at work myself by 7:30. If you want your cow, be over there about 6:00. We'll get your cow loaded in plenty of time for us to be where we need to be."

The next morning Snell was there with his trailer but it was obvious he really didn't believe the cow could be loaded because the holding pen didn't have a chute to back the trailer up to, nor a lane and head catch to run the cow up through. I opened the gate and told Snell he was wasting valuable time, to pull his trailer in the catch pen and back it up next to the fence. Snell said it was no use, there was no way that cow was just going to walk up in that trailer. I said, "Snell, back your trailer up here, open the gate, and leave the rest to the dogs." So he did. While Snell was backing the trailer parallel to the fence, I sent Bear out to flank the cow on one side, Mac on the other. She looked at Bear, then looked at Mac, then turned and walked calmly straight to and up in the trailer. I closed the gate and said, "There's your cow, Snell. Put Mac and Bear's name on her when you sell her because if it hadn't been for them, you never would have gotten her in." Snell looked shocked and said, "Well, if I hadn't seen this with my own eyes I never would have believed it." I said, "Snell, the whole problem was that she had the top part of her left ear missing, and that unbalanced her whole head, and she kept going around and around in circles and couldnít find her way out of that swamp. When Mac took off the top part of her right ear, that evened things up and she could see where she was supposed to go."

A few weeks later, we saw Snell and asked him if the swamp cow brought a good price. He said, "You know, she was a good cow, always raised a good calf, and I really hated to sell her. She seemed like she'd had an attitude adjustment so instead of taking her to the sale that morning I brought her home and turned her out into the pasture at the house, just to see how she'd act. I figured since you and your dogs penned her once, you could do it again if you had to. (Gee thanks, Snell.) Anyway, she is like a different cow. She's the calmest, gentlest thing you ever saw, never chases me, doesn't run away, just stays right there with the other cows and never causes me a bit of trouble. I guess Bear and Mac taught her a lesson."

They sure did, Snell.

 

 

 
 

~~ Inquiries Welcomed ~~
Roger & Kathy Stevens
175 Fortson Road
Dothan, Alabama  36305
Phone 334-692-3883 (call after 7:30 p.m. CST)
or email us at pinciecreek@centurytel.net

      

     
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