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20 June 2009 @ 11:22 am
farming as adventure  
We bought six young steers in April. (We've been buying five or six feeder calves each spring for many years now; this is the first year they were all boys.)

As with every group of cattle we've purchased, they're a joy to have around. They romp and play and kick their heels up. They bellow and moo pleasantly. They munch on the lush pasture south of the house, an idyllic sight. This particular crew is very tame; we rub their foreheads a lot (Keith is especially fond of this activity) and several of the animals push the others out of the way to get to us. We have to be a bit wary--after all, each weighs around 850 lbs. right now

Very occasionally over the years, our cows have escaped the pasture to explore areas beyond. We are not cowboys and our dog is no shepherd, so we have only a limited understanding of how to get a herd of animals, or even just one, to go where we'd like. Our neighbors would prefer untrammeled flowerbeds and that their cornfields were left uneaten, as would we. But over the years, any time our cows got out, we've become better at rectifying the situation.

On Monday morning at 11:30 a.m. I was just leaving the house to drive to the office when I was greeted by one of our friendly steers standing in the driveway in front of the garage. Keith had left for the office hours earlier. I actually felt fortunate for the encounter, since I could easily have driven off without noticing the breakout, if he'd gone anywhere else but that spot. I spoke to him; he stayed put. I found a feed bucket and walked toward the pasture, thinking I could get him to follow me. It didn't work. He wandered toward the grain bins, ignoring me.

At the pasture I could see that the other five cows were still there. So the freewheeling steer was the only one out--for the moment. I wanted to find the location--perhaps a broken fence--where he'd busted or jumped through, since that was apparently the weak link in our containment system. But I didn't dare spook the other animals, since they could easily break through the same opening, wherever it was.

Ramblin' Joe, meanwhile, was moving west toward my back garden. Young tomato plants, peppers, broccoli, and cabbage were going to be his for the taking. I needed help. I called Keith at work. Fortunately this was one of Sara's work days, so she could cover for Keith, and he took off for home immediately.

Waiting for Keith to arrive, I walked toward the cornfield beyond my back garden, taking the long way around so as not to startle Joe. We slowly moved west in tandem, perhaps 45 yards apart, he munching grass as he went, me tracking him, although the buildings between us blocked my view of him from time to time. He stopped in an area of tall grass and scrub trees, a shady, restful spot that luckily was bordered on the west by another fence blocking him from the cornfield itself. I, on the other hand, entered the cornfield and moved south toward his resting place. I couldn't tell if he had entered my garden or not, from my vantage point. But I could keep an eye on him now.

Keith arrived, and we communicated by cell phone to size up the situation. It took Keith only a little while to find the damaged area of fence that had allowed Joe to escape and get Joe to follow him (via feed bucket) back into the pasture through the gate. (We decided later that Joe had by then decided to try to rejoin his brothers; he just needed a bit of gentle persuasion.) Keith then rigged up a temporary fix on the damaged fence and made sure the animals had plenty of water, and we both washed up, had a sandwich, and headed to the office.

That evening, Keith bolstered his fence repair further, and we celebrated with a glass of wine. How lucky that I was on hand to recognize that we had a problem; how fortunate that Keith could get home quickly to solve it. How wonderful that these huge animals trust us (well-just Keith, evidently) well enough to follow us around. And how amazing that Joe apparently walked right past my back garden without entering it. We'll really enjoy those tomatoes and peppers later this summer, knowing what could have been their fate.
Alex R.: mighty penguinoniugnip on June 21st, 2009 03:04 am (UTC)
Do the cows (and steers) usually have names? Or did you name Joe just now, so it'd be easier to talk about him?
deepdistractiondeepdistraction on June 21st, 2009 04:22 am (UTC)
We try naming them each year, though the names don't always stick. Also, they can look a lot alike, which makes choosing names difficult. We look for identifying characteristics to help with the process. Sometimes I come up with different names than Keith does. Then we have decisions to make!

I did just name Joe for the purposes of this entry. As a matter of fact we're not even sure which one of the six is our returned escapee. I might be able to pick him out via careful observation (the most wistful-looking one? the shade lover?) and hopefully that'll be a different one than the ones we've named to date: The Highwayman, Marshall, and Seven-Eleven.