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Tuesday, August 16

News - Mad Cow

Prions. I remember reading that Mad Cow disease is supposed to be caused not by bacteria or virus but by prions. The newness and scariness of it when I first read about it reminds me of AIDS. At least with AIDS, it was thought to be viral (or at least relating to a generally weak immune system). I am curious to see what has been learned about them since I last read about the subject. For now, though, I want to remember about my own only slightly relevant experiences.

When I was a little girl, my family had a mad (slightly crazy/odd, not sick) cow. She was sold to us by a rancher because she had a problem with her hoof. If I remember right, instead of having the normal opening at the top so the hoof was in two parts, the two parts overlapped. Supposedly, this made her a poor choice to use for breeding purposes, so they let us have her for $100.

She was very young and we had a small pasture that neighbored some of their land, so the rancher allowed us to keep her and her mother for a while until she was fully weaned. The pasture stayed shorter and nicer if there was a big animal out there eating the grass and the rancher got her fed and cared for at no charge, so it was mutually beneficial.

Mama Cow was unfriendly, very protective, and very big. Sometimes they were let into our yard. I was always terrified about that because I'd have to walk through the yard to the gate to catch the school bus. Usually, she'd be in some other part of the yard, but occasionally she'd be between me and the gate near when it was time to go. I'd be worried about it, but somehow it always worked out that she'd wander away when the bus actually came.

There were some funny (and scary) incidents with Mama Cow and my dad. I was relieved when she was finally returned to the rancher. Then I just had to deal with our crazy calf. She was about my height - similar to our little Shetland pony except I think she was even heavier. She was also still quite young and playful.

My father named her Hammy. I know, it sounds like a good name for a pig. It came about because he said she was going to be made into "hamburger" and didn't want us to get too attached. It seemed a good way to remind us of that fact. Having gone through this with some rabbits when I was younger, I did my best not to get too attached and I think I could have been fine with eating her meat. I suspected he himself would be the one who would have the most difficulty with it. It never got to that as far as I know. More on that at the end.

Hammy would shy away from tall people, but she would terrorize my younger siblings by chasing after them. I exaggerate a bit. Mostly, my siblings seemed to think it was hilarious and made a game of running from one "big person" to the next with her chasing them and stopping short when she got too close to a "big person". Most of the time, I thought it was funny. I couldn't help thinking sometimes that one slip on the part of my siblings, and she'd be trampling them. They fact that she was being playful wouldn't prevent them from being seriously injured.

Size-wise, I think she wasn't sure what to make of me. She'd either back off or chase me depending on how I acted. If I ran, she'd chase me. If I stood my ground, she'd leave me alone. Sometimes she'd start out to chase me and stop if I stayed still. It was hard to stand still in the face of a huge animal running toward me, but I wasn't sure running was better. It seemed wiser to not get her used to chasing me.

Hammy had gender and species identity issues. At least, she seemed to act as if she was male and our (gelded) male pony was female. Funny, the things you see growing up around animals... She'd also eat just about anything. We'd throw scraps out in an area for the dogs and cats to finish them off, and she'd eat all kinds of things that I didn't know cows would eat (including beef). It was interesting seeing how much of her behavior was affected by her environment and lack of cow (bovine?) companions.

She eventually managed to get out through a hole in the fence. She was found among the cattle belonging to the rancher who originally sold her to us. My dad worked out a deal with the ranch owner to care for her along with his cattle in exchange for us allowing him to sell off her offspring to cover her costs. She turned out to be a good breeder after all.

It occured to me then that the ending could be a story made up by my dad to explain why she disappeared. Maybe he did actually have her slaughtered and just didn't want to upset us. I wonder if ended up eating our mad cow after all.

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