“All things truly wicked start from an innocence.” ~ Ernest Hemingway.

The Banding of Calf # 257  

Calf #257 was in the field with his mother. The calf was on one side of the fence and the mother was on the other side. The rancher had plans to band calf #257 on this particularly cold spring day.

The wind offered an aggressive spray of dirt and gravel; stinging like a thousand small bees on the exposed parts of the rancher and his son. Banding of calves is done within a week or weeks of their birth. It is a form of castration.

Banding is less painful than the removal of the testicles, but it is still excessive on the scale of pain for a little newborn to endure. The calf, being transformed into a steer by way of castration, will often jump, howl, writhe, roll on the ground, and kick for hours after the procedure which is done without anesthesia. The mother of the calf is usually nearby. She is considered extremely dangerous during the process of banding. Her baby will scream in agony and she will be powerless to do anything about it.

The rancher had put the mother on one side of the fence to protect himself while he banded Calf #257. The rancher also put his eight-year-old son on the side of the fence with the mother.

The banding went as expected with the calf protesting with high pitched cries and screams. The mother cow shoved into the fence, paced, snorted and called to her young newborn. As the baby heard mother calling he became even more upset and kicked and thrashed to break free of the rancher’s hold.

The boy was watching the cow, the calf and his father. He remembers a feeling of impending doom. Something very bad is about to happen, he thought.

The wind howled through tall pines that surrounded the small field. A smell of newly mowed hay was in the air. Manure stench surrounded the torture scene.

Grandpa could be seen in the next field over. He was looking toward the procedure taking place and took his hat off as though that action would sharpen his view.

The mother cow entered a state of rage. Rage begins slowly and then accelerates and is then unstoppable. Her nostrils flared wide and hot. Steam came from her nose. Her eyes darted to the rancher, her calf, and then to the boy who stood 20 feet to her left. Her eyes took on the look of terror and then her eyes surrendered to an intense stare into nowhere and everywhere in the same moment.

The boy stared – a thousand yard stare. He went numb.

The mother cow charged the small boy. He was knocked to the ground and with hoofs angrily seeking an outlet she stomped out her pain on the boy’s face, chest and his entire small body.

Grandpa came running from the next field over. At the age of 60 he vaulted smoothly over two barbed-wire fences until he reached his grandson.

Grandpa had a large stick and started hitting the cow to make her leave her straddled position on top of the boy. He took the boy in his arms and ran toward the house some 100 hundred yards away.

The father didn’t do anything except finish banding the calf. He later joined his father and his son at the house.

The father insisted the boy be showered before going to the emergency room. The boy was saturated and coated with a thick application of cow manure.

The boy remembers father insisting on the shower.

His jaw was broken, he was bruised over his entire body, and the swelling of his face would last for weeks. He never wanted to go to his father’s ranch again. But he would return many more times.

This was the beginning of a cascade of experiences of like kind that would haunt this boy throughout childhood, adolescence and adulthood. Time and again he would find himself in the face of danger. He would have to choose among the choices we all know too well. Would he fight, flee, or numb out? He tried all of these unsuccessfully.

The next major incident was in the seventh grade. A small boy with thick-rimmed glasses was being picked on by a group of five older boys. They called him a fag, gay wad, jerk, and various other names intended to carve their memory onto his Limbic system structures. The boy from the ranch had grown tall and proud. He intervened and said to the teen thugs, “Why don’t you leave him alone. Go pick on someone your own size?”

Well, as life would have it, one of the aggressive teens said to the boy from the ranch, “You’re our size.”

Later in the week the teen assailants found the boy from the ranch in the photography darkroom where he was developing some black and white photos he had taken. There were startling images of shadows in the afternoon when light and dark merge to create a perfect light capturing the rich textures of bark, limb, trunk, soil and plants.

The teens held the boy from the ranch while others took turns kicking him in the stomach, groin, legs and buttocks. He put up a good fight trying to get free. In the end, seven to one is beyond unfair.

The boy from the ranch ended up in the emergency room with a torn hydrocele. His right testicle had been damaged.

This was before anyone talked about bullying in the schools.

The mother and boy from the ranch went to the school counselor and spoke of the incident. The school counselor’s name was Hank. Hank asked the boy from the ranch, “What did you do to provoke the group of boys?”


…More on the Banding of Calf #257 and Emotional Crime Scenes in the next blog.

Be well, take care, go gently.

Nanette Burton Mongelluzzo, PhD