“We’ve got a situation.”
Chris had gone downstairs to get our Sunday morning cups of coffee; he returned empty handed.
“The cows are sitting on the front lawn.”
“Yep! All except the white one. He’s still in the paddock.”
I scooted downstairs and confirmed that the cows were, indeed, lounging near the grove of trees that separates our lawn with the front pasture. We don’t have exterior fencing around the farm, and seeing them out was nerve-wracking at best. As I gaped out the dining room window and hurriedly slurped coffee, the cows stood up, fertilized the lawn (thanks, ladies), and began walking through the small grove of trees, around the backside to the left. Their hind quarters disappeared into the leaves, and I sent the first of many Sunday prayers that they would just turn left and head back toward the pastures, rather than out toward our road (and worse yet, the highway).
Chris got the quads warmed up (we’re supposed to call them “wheelers” out here in Minnesota, I’ve heard), I handed out radios (one for each of us, one for the girls in the house), and we got outside. By the time we made it around to the front, there was not a hoof in sight. Chris rode along the tree line between our front pasture and our neighbor’s, hoping the herd wasn’t hiding out in the woods. Not only had the cows NOT turned left and headed home (as I had hoped), there was no sign of them anywhere.
Whenever we have had significant “we-need-farmer-boots-on-the-ground” events around here, I feel for Chris. He has spent a lifetime working with and around farm implements and animals; I am a newcomer to all things farm related. Before this summer, I had piloted my own 4-wheeler exactly no times ever. So whenever a crisis has needed two capable people, the response team is a staff of about 1 ½. Nevertheless, this is our farm, our business, and our dream. We are here, we are farming, and we are learning to handle the inevitable farm “situations,” no matter how much previous experience we have between us.
Chris drove north on our road, up toward the highway. I was lagging behind, as I had taken one last hopeful trip up a hill to check the back fields again before I headed out toward the road to help. Chris was stopped and talking to a minivan that had – miraculously – been out for an early Sunday drive at our end of the road. Considering the average daily traffic that Quail Street sees, meeting someone out for a drive just as we were cow hunting was serendipitous, to say the least.
I stopped and looked down at the side of the road. Hoof prints! They tracked back toward the driveway, so I flipped around and followed them. And followed them. And followed them. Past the driveway, about an ⅛ of a mile farther down the road the prints turned and headed east along an avenue. I turned left and then stopped to radio Chris. The minivan that had been talking with Chris came up behind me, slowed down, and turned left where I was parked. I lifted my hand to wave in hopes that I was exuding neighborly, non-stressed, completely capable vibes. The young man – bless him, dear reader – said simply, “Hey, we found them!”
I made my way back toward Chris, grateful that the first hurdle had been cleared – we knew where the cattle were – and steeling myself to start the next. Herding cows back home, on quads, out amongst our neighbors was not something I ever really thought I would find myself doing. Chris and I talked later about all the things that were going through our minds at this point. I was nervous that a cow would get hit by a car and hurt themselves or someone else, and I was trying to process what it would be like to call for backup assistance from our neighboring farmer friend, or God forbid, local law enforcement.
Chris and I met up again, and he let me know that our minivan-driving guardian angel’s name was James, his uncle was the proud owner of the soybeans that our cows were in, and that he was going to jump on his wheeler and help us herd the wayward cattle back home. There are benefits to living at the end of a road mainly populated by one large, extended family. I parked along the side of the road, at the end of James’s uncle’s driveway; Chris and James were going to push the cows back onto Quail, and I would be there to get them to turn left toward home, rather than right toward the state highway. I sat quietly for a few minutes – minutes that felt much longer than they actually were – until I heard branches and leaves snapping behind me. Behind! The herd was making their way out onto the road about 5 yards earlier than I was positioned for, and rather than being between them and the highway, I was between them and home. Oh my.
I left my 4-wheeler off, sat as quietly and as still as I could muster, and implored the heavens to send the cows south. Thankfully, they stopped, sniffed the air, and then trotted around me to head back toward the farm. Chris followed along, I fired up my hotrod, and we sped up just in time to get them turned back onto our front pastures. Friends, I have never been so happy to see cattle on the wrong side of my house.
The rest of the saga is – and was – slightly less stressful than the beginning. Getting the cattle back through one of either of the wire gates that access the pasture took a few tries, and would have been much, much more difficult without James’s help. Thankfully cattle and their herding habits are pretty predictable; after spending the summer working outside with Chris, we can work cows together pretty intuitively. But truly, searching for and moving the cows while off the farm – out of a neighbor’s bean field, and less than an ⅛ of a mile from a busy state highway no less – was one of the more stressful things we have dealt with so far.
Once we got everyone back into the fenced pasture and down near the hot wire paddock, we were able to see what had happened. One corner of the polywire had fallen down at some point during the evening. No telling if it was a tail twitch, an ambitiously naughty nose bump, a wild animal, or the wind. Chris got the wires restrung, and I worked the cows around to the backside of their daily paddock. On foot, we were able to get five of the six runaways happily back in with the well behaved white steer. One heifer though – our habitual escapee – was more reluctant to head back in and join the others. She is the cow who jumped the hotwire in March and the one who has discovered shorts in the electric fence system before we have. Twice in the last week, Chris and Nora have had to head out and regroup “the naughty cow” (as Nora calls her) with the others. It was clear that this little angus heifer relished her freedom, and didn’t quite want to give up her night of joyriding quite yet. She will most likely get out again (heaven help us), but hopefully next time we will have all the perimeter gates closed for the night (oops). If we were breeding our own herd, she would have a date with the locker instead of a bull, that is for certain.
All in all, the whole ordeal took about an hour. Once Chris and I had time to enjoy some Sunday morning coffee and process it all, we are amazed at all the auspicious coincidences that went in our favor. There is no telling how long the cattle had been out once Chris made his way downstairs for coffee. They had clearly done all their neighborhood roaming off the farm and down the roads well before we were awake and aware of their absence. What made the cattle come back and settle in for a daybreak rest right outside our favorite morning-view windows? No idea. How lucky are we that the lone car on the road was a neighbor who also happened to have access to his uncle’s property and wheeler keys? Incredibly. To say that we are thankful is an understatement. We can add “the cows got out” to our “Farm Situations We Have Survived” list, and say with great certainty that all the gates – polywire, hot-wire, or otherwise – will be closed and double-checked at the end of each day. This morning was further proof that while Chris and I farm well together – in good times and in stressful – helpful neighbors and sheer luck are sometimes worth more than a million words could ever express.
Here’s to helpful neighbors, well behaved cows, and cattle rustling that’s easy like Sunday morning.