Most of our cows are wintering out. We have a large bale feeder that we keep flush with hay and a tank of water that is constantly full, and they move about at their leisure between the two. There is a wedge of pasture that is protected from the wind by two converging hills with thick woods on either side. They go there when it blows. The Kerry cows in our herd have a genetic advantage over the two Dutch belted cross steers in that they have thicker coats and ample reserves of fat. Our best cow, Juno, is maintaining her condition in this weather with a growing calf under her. She is amazing. Her calf has ballooned into a tubular marshmallow overtopping his short and stocky legs. This indicates to me that they are doing fine. But about a month ago, the two steers began looking a little worn and unthrifty. We decided to bring them down to the barn with the younger cows where they could enjoy a more sheltered existence. The following day we saw that Juno's calf had slipped under the wire. We walked up the hill to them, observing his solitary set of hoof prints in the snow. He must have missed his two young companions and ventured off to see where they had gone. He had walked three quarters of the way to the red barn, stopped at the crest of the hill, and then turned reluctantly back to his herd, having seen no sign of his comrades. Meanwhile, they were stuffing themselves with second cut hay, kelp meal and the little splattering of grain we give them from time to time. On top of this luxurious diet we decided to worm them. Then they might really get the upper hand over the microscopic life forms that were keeping them impoverished. A week or two after the treatment their coats had improved in luster and they were lively enough to take turns mounting a cow in heat despite their not having testicles. It was time for them to return to their friends on the hill.
We took some grain with us to coax them along and got them out the side door without any hassle. Taking a small journey on foot with two playful cows made me see the allure of what I imagine to be the shepherd's life. Walking with large animals, moving with them at their own pace, brought such a vital sense of collective well being even though we were only going a short distance.
I brought a camera with me to capture the moment when the steers were reunited with the rest of the herd. It was full of bravado and excitement.
They moo-ed at the first sight of each other and starting horsing around immediately. Everyone got so wound up that they were losing their footing in the snow as they ran around in circles.