Anyone who’s ever raised livestock knows it all too well: When the cattle are out, everything else in your life is put on pause until they, hopefully, are once again contained.
Such was the case earlier this summer at our small farm after a situation that — well, let’s just say it taught us some valuable lessons in stockmanship that we won’t soon forget.
Most of the time during the summer months, our herd of about 15 Red Angus cattle doesn’t see much of us or require much in the way of human intervention, aside from daily head counts. They like it that way; we like it that way.
We paid the price for that mostly hands-off approach while trying to relocate eight young animals from our growing herd to a newly acquired pasture a couple miles down the road.
After fencing was determined to be solid and secure, three animals were rounded up and transported, with little fanfare, to their new digs. But while the guys were gone back to the farm to pick up five more head, the other three had somehow gotten spooked and jumped the fence, apparently preferring a life on the lam over fresh pasture.
This wily trio included a young 500-pound bull that had just been “pinched” that morning. His emasculation rendered him more than a bit jumpy, and understandably so. Hormones raging, the sorely offended would-be steer took off for parts unknown with a similarly sized heifer and an older steer in tow.
A valuable lesson was learned from this: Make bulls into steers well in advance of suggesting they go to a new home.
Subsequently, the decision was made to bring five very riled-up feeder animals, still loaded in the trailer, on an impromptu road trip to the livestock market in Rock Creek, Minn., right away that afternoon rather than drop them off in the new pasture and potentially compound our problems.
As for the three escapees, well, when cattle scared out of their wits gallop off into the woods at a high rate of speed, there’s little, if anything, we humans can do to retrieve them except to go home, pray and wait for them to turn up somewhere. Most likely, they’ll turn up pestering somebody else’s cows from across the fence, so neighbors were promptly notified of our predicament.
As his dad and grandpa headed north to the sales barn, son Dylan came home and filled me in on everything as I worked in my office. By that time, I had already received a few phone calls from my panicked husband, but Dylan summed the morning up perfectly: “Nothing about that went well.”
However, things were looking up by that evening: The wayward steer had been penned up by a neighboring dairy farmer and plans were made to go ahead and butcher him within the weekend — a couple months earlier than we had planned, but arguably the simplest solution.
A little later, news came in that the heifer had joined up with another local dairy herd and, after wreaking a little havoc there, she was confined near the barn with a handful of young dairy heifers and an old Holstein cow. They were exerting a calming influence.
The next morning after breakfast, it was all hands on deck to bring the runaway heifer home. Our posse of five cattle wranglers — ages 18 to 76 with varying degrees of experience — converged on the farm. For once that weekend, things went smoothly.
The wayward bull, who undoubtedly still hadn’t forgiven all of mankind for the pain inflicted upon his nether region, had been spotted hanging out just over the hill with the farmer’s milking herd, maintaining a very safe distance from people.
Three days later, all bovines had been accounted for and dealt with accordingly. Plans to fill that new pasture with cattle have now been delayed until next year, and to be sure, the castration of any young bulls making the move will take place well in advance of their departure.