Monday, November 29, 2010

Bovine Social Club

You have lazy Sunday afternoons, where you lie around, perusing what to do, if you don‘t take a nice, quiet nap. I know that I’ve had a few, but lately, most of them have been taken up with catching cows. This is not to be confused with Mad Cow disease, although you might make a cow mad while attempting to herd it home.

If you are wont to enjoy the company of your neighbors in a natural, rural setting, there is nothing like trying to get a lovelorn heifer back to the home pasture. Especially if she’s mixed in with about thirty other head of cattle, a half-dozen horses and a mule. Let me not neglect the Bull of the herd and it’s young son, Bull, jr.

This stray heifer, not exactly light of hoof at about 800 pounds, has been the cow errant of the farm. She likes to jump fences, even if said fence is of barbed wire construction and about three feet tall. Which is not the usual height of a good farm fence. It’s the height of some of the fence here due to lack of maintenance. Fence gets taken down by trees, animals, broken posts, etc. There’s always something to mend on a farm.

My neighbor Carol, having encouraged my father into getting this ‘herd’, is a willing participant in the care and feeding of said animals. I was against it from the start, as I knew who would get roped in, so to speak, when it came to dealing with the overall care of the ‘herd’. My previous experiences having been with a herd of about 25 cattle last year that a former girlfriend happened to have on her property. They spent more of their time over the fence, in the road or wandering in the woods then they did in the fields. Since both the cattle and my ex-girlfriend were spending more time wandering than staying home, it was best that we split. So, I really didn’t want to have to deal with more of the same, with less help, this year. At least I knew which watering hole the cows were drinking at.

When I showed up at my neighbor Carol’s door, she was in the middle of cooking beans and watching “Of Mice and Men”, which could be the story of living in my old farmhouse, but the mice have taken to committing suicide by water bucket lately, a topic which I may dwell on in a later blog.

It would be about an hour before the beans and the movie would be over, so I went out to the shop and worked on various projects. I put a couple of coats of paint on the now welded up ATV gas tank, then started taking apart the wood burning fireplace insert. Haven’t been able to sell it, so I’m going to cut it down to fit my small fireplace. It’s more than twice as big as the wood burner I’m using now.

Carol came out to get me when she was ready to go. I got some rope, a big plastic coffee can of sweet feed and found a wooden stick, about 1 ½ X 2 inches and 4 feet long. Didn’t think to bring a ball bat. Carol had her cane that she used when they operated on her knee. It helps to have a nice stick when you’re dealing with a herd or even a single animal. As Carol found out earlier in the week, when a very preggers LuLu all 1,000+ pounds of her, cornered Carol and tried to butt her, wanting to get to that can of sweet feed. Which is a real treat for cattle and horses, kind of like chocolate for kids with hooves. Three basic rules of dealing with cattle: Don’t get in with them while feeding them, don’t get between a heifer and her calf and NEVER fuck with the bull. You will get the horn, if not run over.

We piled into her van, since the farm truck was hooked to a trailer and went up the road to the neighbor’s pasture. At the field, we walked about a ¼ mile, looking through the scattered herd for “Curly”. Don’t give me any grief about these names, I didn’t name the cows, Carol did. We spot Curly on the far side of the pond. I notice a very anxious black cow, which I mistake for a bull. She’s dancing around, running back and forth. That’s when I ask Carol, “Does JW have any bulls out here?”
“Yep, why?”
“I think I see one.”
That’s when I realize that Carol, festive person that she is, is wearing a bright red Christmas sweatshirt under her bright orange University of Tennessee windbreaker, with athletic shoes. We’re being subtle here, right? I’m dressed in standard farm regalia, bib overalls, heavy boots and a black and white checked hoodie, dark blue ball cap. Just like you see down at the local feed store, rapping to the oldies.

“Uh, Carol, you might want to zip up your jacket, since that bull might not like your red sweatshirt.”

I won’t repeat her reply, lets just say that she zipped up her windbreaker while dodging ankle deep cow pies.

Turning back to the cow in question. Curly was regarding us with a wary look. She’d seen people coming for her before and it usually wasn’t a good sign. I tried to ‘make friends’ with her by using the old, native ritual of shaking the gourd, in this case, rattling a plastic coffee can of sweet feed, while calling “Here babe, come on, here babe.” Hey, it works for witch doctors, right?

She looked at me like I was some thick-glasses wearing geek in a hillbilly costume. I kept up the chant. The dancing cow gets closer and I realize that she’s a young heifer, couldn’t see her udder, since she isn’t mature. Curly comes on and gets about four feet from me, the smell of sweet feed drawing her and twenty other cows. I throw some out on the ground and she bows her head to munch it. As soon as I pull the rope out of my pocket she moves off. We proceed to play ‘chase the cow’ for the next half hour.

During this time, we realize that there is a bull in this pasture, actually there‘s two of them. Big Bull’s watching with more than a little interest, kind of like a pimp watching over his ladies. His son, Bull, jr. is prancing around, playing with his mom. Which is hard to imagine, 500 pounds of dancing beef. Big Bull, he’s cool, you would be too, if you weighed in around 1800 pounds. He looks like a four-legged locomotive with a head about two feet wide. All I can think is that I’m glad that he’s not a big one. I had one about 2300 pounds come at me last year when the herd stampeded due to 4th of July fireworks going off. The only thing that kept me from getting run over was the fact that I was next to a forest and got in behind a tree. The herd went through the forest, then they slowed down. They sauntered into the next field like nothing happened. Which made me happy, since that’s where I was trying to herd them to begin with.

We now have Big Bull decide that we’re messing with his heifer. Not only is he standing shoulder to shoulder with Curly, he’s got the rest of the bovine posse lined up with him. I faced some big offensive lines playing high school football. Which wasn’t hard, since I was the one of the smallest, lightest guys on the team and the only one that wore glasses in the whole league, while playing middle linebacker. Some of the guards and centers would laugh, until we made contact. Everything I did was within the rules. The problem is there’s no referees on this field and these animals have their own rules. You might outrun a bull for a hundred yards, if you’re a world-class sprinter. I guarantee that he’ll catch you in the second hundred.

Discretion being the better part of valor, I turned around and walked off, heading for the gate. Carol decided that would be a good idea also. I think she was growing tired of dodging cow pies and pushing horses away from her. They love sweet feed and aren’t shy about it. We had gone about a hundred feet when Carol said, “They’re following us.”

She was about twenty feet off to my left, I pivoted, looked over my shoulder. Sure enough, the bovine posse was duly following us towards the gate. We’re all out for a nice, Sunday afternoon stroll in the fields. As we get near the gate, the owner and his wife pull up. JW and Theresa park in the road and get out to help. JW shunts the horses off into a field next to the one Curly is in and closes the gate on them.

The bovine posse now has us cornered by the gate. 25,000 pounds of beef on the hoof versus three puny humans, who wouldn’t top 400 pounds altogether. The bovine posse craps more than we weigh in a day. We hold them at bay since we have the key ingredient, sweet feed. We rattle the cans, enticing them, warding off the animal spirits. Curly knows it’s ordained and shuffles forward, the rest of the herd holds back. They turn and move away, like they know we can’t be stopped and she’s been chosen to leave with us.

I get around behind her, moving slowly, urging her forward. JW keeps her from going down the right fence line and back out into the field. Carol opened the gate, wide enough to drive a truck through, shaking her can of sweet feed. Curly edges forward, then moves to up the fence line to my left. I dodge left and get her headed back towards the open gate. Curly gets within ten feet of it, then bolts left and turns on the speed like a halfback heading for the goal line. She’s gone, back into the middle of the field, in nothing flat.

A big roan mare decides that she’s seen enough and pushes the gate open, reaches over and rips the lid off of Carol’s coffee can. She wants that sweet feed! Carol bops her on the nose, while JW waves her back behind the gate into the small field.

We humans regroup, deciding that parking the maroon van and the big Chevy diesel dually at the gate might have kept Curly from coming out. The vehicles are moved, while I walk out into the field, trying to catch up with Curly. This is why you need either a good horse or a four-wheeler. A moto-cross bike would work, but I think that after hitting a few cow pies, you might have to be hosed off and fumigated before they let you in the house. Trying to walk/run after cattle will only wear you out.

After about another twenty minutes of chasing Curly, I’ve had it. I’m ready to go back to the shop, where the only cowhide is in gloves or seat covers. The Big Bull has ambled towards the lower pasture. He’s getting bored. Curly comes up along side him, going the other direction and gives him a ‘come-on’ rub with her butt. I’m watching this and decide that I better hang back, in case this is Sunday afternoon bovine lust. He ignores her and keeps heading towards the lower pasture. Miffed, she trots off across the big pasture and I start to follow her. JW yells at me, “Hey, forget it. We’ll get her tomorrow.”

I can only nod agreement and we trudge back across the pasture to the gate. He tells me about how he used to have two bulls, but last year one of them disappeared. He thinks it might have been stolen. I’m surprised. “How the hell could someone steal a bull? We can’t even get a heifer to follow us!”
He explains that they have a gun, shoots a dart with something in it that slows the bull down.

Whoa! I’m thinking, that’s it! Cows on ‘ludes! Where the hell are Quaaludes when you need them! No, wait, that would just make her really horny. That’s enough of a problem.

Wonder how many Valiums it would take?

Maybe we should just take her a bucketful of beer and let the drunk heifer stumble home behind us?

Sounds like an excuse for a kegger to me.

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