Thursday, July 22, 2010

Bad Cow Tale

Next week is the event we have been dreading all summer,  the week our steers get harvested.

Since raising the steers was originally her project, Cadence has been  researching all the options, figuring out the costs, and making all the preparations.  She composed a marketing message that I emailed out and posted on Facebook and she made some posters to hang at her work.  I sent the email out last night and already have two responses reserving quarters. And two emails from friends who have met our steers and said they don't really want to know their meat that well.

This is going to be tougher than slaughtering the pigs last summer because we have had  over a year to get to know these cattle.  We  have  talked about whether we should sell the steers to somebody else so we don't have to  deal with this part, but we agree that this was our intent, and we raised them so we would know exactly how our beef was raised--in this case, with no antibiotics or hormones,  on green pasture, sustainably-grown hay and creamy milk, with love and affection and plenty of pampering. They have had a pretty idyllic life.

Last evening  just as I was  getting in the car to pick up Rog from work, I glanced at the small pasture we had moved the cows to that morning and it looked empty. I walked over to see the cows they were hidden behind the chicken coop, but NO!  The gate to the woods was swung open and all four cows had  escaped.

I ran to the edge of the woods, hoping to head them off before they got to the highway, but then I heard horns honking--they were on the road already.  The highway is just two lanes with no shoulders and the cars come very fast over the hill, not expecting to suddenly have obstacles on the road, so this was very dangerous for them and for my cows. By the time I got to the edge of the woods I could see that the cows had safely crossed over and were running along the ditch to Douglas, the village at the bottom of the hill, where they tromped into a soy-bean field and started munching contentedly. As I ran the quarter mile along the road, I breathlessly phoned Rog at work and  told him I couldn't pick him up yet - I had a cow emergency and was all alone and could he give me our dairy farmer neighbor's phone number?

When I called the neighbor's cell, Nancy wasn't at home but she said  her husband and son would just be starting milking; when she arrived home she would see if anyone could come help me.  I tried everything I could think of to herd the cows toward home but they were not interested in going that direction and dispersed every which way.  I had no treats to lure them, no halter to lead them.  Finally I tried rationalizing with them, telling them that I really needed them to follow me home, and miraculously, they did! for a little ways, to the ditch.

Our road is not a very busy road except in the morning and evening when people are driving to and from work in town. It was evening rush hour and cars had started to whiz by- many  drivers craning their necks curiously as they passed, but nobody stopping.  My biggest fear was of the cows suddenly bolting up from the ditch into the traffic.

Finally, a couple pulled over and asked if I needed help. I said YES! I would be so grateful, if they weren't afraid of cows. Well, the man turned out to be a dairy farmer from the next town who has 3,000 holsteins.  He was so calm and knew exactly how to keep them moving together back along the ditch. His wife followed along in their vehicle, slowing the traffic. We finally got the cows across the intersection, where they immediately ran into the dairy farmer neighbor's cornfield, just as he and his family arrived to help herd them up.  Getting the cows out of the corn was a bit tricky because our cows are so small and his corn was so tall, much taller than a man, they just disappeared.  Finally, I  located them in a row and drove them toward Mark, who turned them toward the road and his kids chased them up the embankment and across the road to our driveway. Then they all rushed back to do their milking while I lured the wayward cows into their fenced pasture.

After that hour-long chase scene, I was totally red, drenched in sweat, plastered with dirt, and had been crashing through ditches of dangerous wild parsnip, so I took a long, cold shower and let the adrenalin subside.  Now I feel a teeny bit less sad about the idea of harvesting those steers next week.


Anonymous said...

Your last line was perfect!

Mama Pea said...

That's such a totally helpless feeling . . . having no control of animals and being scared to death they are going to cause an accident or injure themselves. I'm so glad for you that everything turned out okay. Whew.

katiegirl said...

Oh my gosh. How maddening!! Thank goodness the dairy farming couple stopped! And I agree, the last line says it all!