The Phone Call We Dread

“You aren’t asleep, are you?”

It was 10:15 Sunday night and my neighbor Mike was calling. I knew it wouldn’t be good news.

“Your cows are up next to my barn. A big group of them.”

And there goes a perfectly good evening…

A couple days before, Mike had brought over this year’s group of calves. They’re born on his pastures next door, and they wean away from their mothers over at our farm. They spend the next year-and-a-half to two years on our farm, fattening up on grass.

Their first two days here, everything had been going well. So well, that I had intended to be writing this blog post about our system to receiving calves. “Let not many of you be teachers”, as the saying goes…

Apparently one of the calves spooked during the night, crashing through the fences and creating a path for the others to follow. In the heady rush for freedom in the dark, they ended up going through multiple sets of fences, both temporary fences and permanent fences.

So we did a cattle drive on a cloudy, moonless night, finishing about 2:30 AM with the last of the strays rounded up. I wasn’t sure we’d be able to herd the cattle in the dark, around corners and over terrain. But strangely enough we found that some aspects were easier than daylight herding. Using flashlights or the headlights on the four-wheeler, we could illuminate a path and the cattle usually chose to avoid the bright lights and to follow the path we made for them. It seemed as though their reduced vision allowed the cattle to focus more on our position, and thus to respond better to our herding motion.

Grass fed calves standing in a group at Wrong Direction Farm
The calves, now returned to their winter pasture, are still hanging together in a tight group. Over the next few days, they’ll feel more relaxed among the older cattle and integrate into a more cohesive herd identity with the others.

“The Cows Are Out!” are the words of woe for any beef or dairy farmer. The real estate agent who sold us this farm used to be a dairy farmer. He told the story of working unending hours and, as a music lover, being delighted to finally get a day off to attend a concert. Just before the lights dimmed, the PA system crackled with the announcement, “Attention Mr and Mrs V., your cows are out.” And so they left the concert to return home to deal with the escapees.

It has been quite a few years since we had a blowout escape like this, and I hope we don’t have to deal with another one for a long, long time. In the early days, when we had very little permanent fencing, we sure had some fiascos. Those are times I’d soon forget.

For now, the cows are in.

2 thoughts on “The Phone Call We Dread”

  1. “Cows are out” calls truly are a misery unto themselves. It’s odd how much more often they occur during the night than during the day…

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