Every once in a while something happens at the farm to make me rethink the entire concept of me in a rural context.
One such event occurred last week.
We were going to have a group of volunteers come out to do some tree planting on Thursday so on Wednesday we drove up to get everything ready. I had already scoped out the planting area and put trays with about 500 little trees up there a few days earlier. I wanted to make the volunteers think they were going to be taking part in a well organized and managed operation.
But as we drove up the driveway I had a “this can’t be happening” moment. Because standing and staring at us were not one, not two, but three freaking cows!
I’ve mentioned the problem of bovine incursions in the past. We have five neighbours and four of them graze cattle on their farms. For various reasons, cows may find themselves on the wrong side of the fence from time to time. In the days when we were grazing cows it didn’t matter—the cows would happily socialize and then would get sorted out the next time they were getting moved.
But now a cow visit is a major crisis. Even if they don’t eat any of the new trees, in a few hours a cow can wipe out a day’s tree planting just by walking around. And of course, they crap everywhere and leave a lasting legacy. Cow pies seem to have a half life of about two years.
I don’t know about you, but when things like this happen, my rational thought processes sort of shut down. That’s mainly because I have no idea what to do. I have no idea where the cows have come from, how they got in and how to get rid of them. Odds are they have either come in through a break in the fence or, for some reason apparent only to the bovine mentality, have breached a hole in an otherwise good fence. Although the boundary fences are electrified, cows have been known to break through them.
It’s bad enough with one cow because if by some chance you figure out how it got in, the chances of having it obligingly go back the same way are less than zippo. Managing three cows was going to be a serious challenge because when you approach them it’s like they are billiard balls and you are the cue ball–everyone goes in a different direction.
I urgently wanted to go up to the planting site and make sure they hadn’t eaten the next day’s plant supply or, equally disastrous, bombed it with cow poop, but before I did anything I wanted to make the cows go away.
The more I tried to think, the less happened. The predicament was complicated because a normal farm would be broken up into smaller paddocks where a rogue beast could be sequestered until its owner came to claim it. But we’ve removed most of the internal fences on the property so once a cow is loose it can virtually go anywhere.
My first goal was to keep them together and to try to get them into an area where they would not do too much damage. I figured out which property they had come from. Unfortunately, Warwick, the neigbor in question wasn’t home and as there is no cell phone coverage out there I could not even call him and inform him about the bovine incursion (in other words, get him to handle it).
So it was just my wife and I vs. two and a half tons of beef–or three beeves (I’ve always wanted to use that word).
That’s another problem. Cows may be docile but they are also Very Large. And some of them have horns. They are also generally unwilling to demonstrate any indication that they are sentient. And they make very big footprints. None of these things fill me with confidence when dealing with them.
We settled on the strategy of trying to move them into an open area with lots of nice grass near their home ground in the hope they would either go back where they came from or at least occupy themselves until the neighbour got home.
I didn’t even have an off road vehicle but figured I could possibly herd them along from the safety of the car. Ominously, as I pulled up toward them they came running toward us but as I inched forward, they turned around and actually started moving in the direction I wanted them to go!
At this point they were about 20 feet from their home, but the fence in that area was perfect. So now the challenge was to somehow orchestrate getting three cows to move together with me as we searched for the opening in the fence that would let them go home.
Clearly leadership was called for. I got out my conductor’s baton (cow sized) and addressed the troops. You can see I’ve really gotten their attention:
I decided that a threatening gesture was called for:
Which had an immediate impact:
I wasn’t sure how long they were going to stare at me while I waved my stick at them and requested them to get lost. My wife and I decided to test the beasts’ fight or (hopefully) flight mechanism. We walked slowly, herding them with our batons, and to our glee the cows started moving in the direction we wanted them to. We sped up and they sped up. We slowed down and they slowed down. It got really boring so we did a sort of run at them. And that got a reaction.
Unfortunately there is no photographic evidence, but the cows took off over a hill with thundering hooves. I was happy that they were now well away from where I particularly didn’t want them, but my joy turned to euphoria when I topped the rise and saw that they had all run home, through a gap in the fence that neither my neighbour or I had previously known about.
My wife and I took an old metal gate and dragged it to the opening and wired it in place. I then spent a few hours replanting a number of trees that they had pulled up or knocked down. The damaged was very localized and fortunately they hadn’t visited the new planting area.
The story has a happy ending, but not for the cows. Warwick has four cows and three of them had escaped. When I talked to him I mentioned that an en masse breakout was unusual and that when I was trying to move them one of the cows was unusually aggressive and seemed to be the trouble maker. He agreed and mentioned that two of them had been exhibiting bizarre behaviour for a while and that he would “take care of it.”
We had a fun planting day with the group on Thursday and then headed home. Two days later I looked over at Warwick’s and was concerned to see only two cows wandering around. Had the two troublemakers done a midnight run?
I didn’t see any evidence of tampering with my temporary fence repair and there was no evidence of any rogue cows running around on the property. And then I realized that Warwick had indeed “taken care of it.” I haven’t talked to him but I assume steak was on the menu.