Friday, November 18, 2011

Neighbors and Fences

I really like this fence. The previous 'steward' of this place installed it with your assistance, assuming you pay federal taxes, as he got a load of government grant money from a federal acronym agency (NRCS and/or SWCD). For a few moments yesterday I thought for sure I was going to have a major mending operation on my docket, as well as an injured cow. The back story goes like this -

Our neighbor to the south is a very friendly, unfailingly helpful and cheerful 80 year-old partly retired dairy farmer. His name is Don. He has a good chunk of his land fenced with 3 or 4 strands of barbed wire that dates to his early career in the milk business. For a number of reasons such as neighborliness and nostalgia and feeling of use he continues to custom graze another local farm's bred heifers. This year he had 17 dropped off at the beginning of the grazing season and sent three home over the summer because they calved. Deer season opened today, and in preparation for it the 14 remaining heifers all went home on Wednesday, or so Don thought. On Thursday he went up the hill in his little ATV and, as he later told me, "thought he saw a ghost" when he got to the top. Somehow during the loading process they miscounted and failed to load one of the animals. It was this heifer that presented itself as a vision of the hereafter to Don as he looked into his pasture from the hilltop. There ensued an epic herd/chase that lasted a good part of Thursday and involved at least four men for various amounts of time. When they finally called it off Garth had assisted for two hours and if anything the heifer was more scared than anything else. Cattle may lumber about 98% of the time, but they can move when the fancy strikes them. Being alone and encountering only marginally familiar machines and people are motivation enough for most bovines to strike out into that 2% territory and hoof it. Chasing a 1200 pound animal through hawthorne thickets is not an adventure I'd wish on anyone.

So the chase was set aside after a while. Before sunset Garth spotted the rogue heifer out against the high distant part of our fence nose-to-nose with one of our calves. The disconcerting part of the 'sighting' lay in the fact that Don's old fences don't run out to that region of our fence. Not only had she run through thickets and woods, she'd jumped or broken or pushed through some stretch of Don's fence and freed herself of all confinement.

Yesterday morning dawned cloudy and windy. Garth and I went up on our pasture to capture a steer we're going to slaughter in a few weeks, and after we got a lead rope on his collar we decided to go help Don look for the lost heifer, as we were certain he'd be out searching for her. Sure enough we found him, his brother Bob, his neighbor Homer, (another retired dairy farmer) and his hired help Kevin all packed into Don's little Kubota 4-wheeler. Garth and I volunteered our assistance since it was obvious the stress of losing a friend's heifer was really getting to Don, and we were definitely the fleetest of foot available to scour the woods. We formed a plan and arced out through a large swath of our woods, ending near where Garth last saw the heifer the day before. We were careful to approach so that as we spooked her she would head for Don's place again, not the other direction out into the wilds of upstate NY. Sure enough, we found her in the woods near our fence and she spooked readily. Our cattle happened to be close-by, sequestered by their portable electric wires. They charged over to see what the commotion was about and then the whole group ran back and forth along the fence, our cattle on one side in the open, the errant heifer in the woods smashing through trees and rocks. We didn't push her hard, in fact we were standing well back still contemplating what course of action to take when she got it into her head that it was time to join the herd on the other side of the fence. She propped her feet up over the wires and then proceded to slowly roll over the fence. She hit the ground with a crash and wind-expelling bellow, then struggled slowly to her feet. My view was obscured by the trees, so if you recall back to the opening of this post, I had visions of terrible injuries and ruined fence dance into imagination. Luckily the dance was short-lived because I saw the heifer on her feet being crowded by our animals in a sort of bovine scrum. Still harboring fears of a trashed fence I walked over and looked around, but could find no evidence of any damage despite the huge loads placed on the wire mesh.

From there the adventure slowly wound down. She snapped our portable electric wire as the whole herd joined her in a stampede across the pasture, but after a breif lap around the whole place they settled down and we guided them into the red-barn without any hitches. We then sorted our animals out, and had her nicely contained in a solid building. Don brought over a rickety cattle trailer and we packed her up and sent her home.

I'm grateful for a number of things. I'm grateful that the heifer wasn't hurt. I'm grateful our fence wasn't damaged. I'm grateful that everyone maintained a sense of humor about the whole fiasco. I'm grateful that it is over and that she is home with the others in her herd. And I'm really grateful we have such a bomber fence.

- Edmund

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