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Baa Damn You

August 20, 2008

Have you seen the movie, Babe?  When the sheep tell Rex, the gruff Border Collie their password, they say Baa-Ram-Ewe, and our daughter who was small at the time, thought the sheep were saying BAA-DAMN-YOU!  Now we aren’t really sure why she would think such a thing 😉 – but it was quite comical at the time.  Almost as funny as the time she told us that a family friend’s boyfriend, reminded her of, “that Dick at the feed store!”  We still chuckle about that every time we go to the feed store 😀  And we wondered, which one??

I actually love the movie Babe, in it’s simplicity it shows just how much a husbandman listens and watches his livestock.  A farm’s inhabitants are inter-related, not paying attention to subtle cues can make or break an operation.  Or not.  I’ve come to believe some people never will pay attention to their stock.  Some people don’t pay attention to their children either.  You either are aware or not.  Period.

Most of my talking to the animals is really listening to the animals, and Boy, do they have me trained.  Once the cows know that I know what they mean, they call to me.  Sometimes, it’s a greeting, or sometimes they need something, and they know I will show up.  I listen 24 hours a day.  Our cows are pretty quiet, usually only bawling if something is up.  They all have different voices and they can say many things, just like our dogs barking.  It isn’t just noise.  The males sound different than the females, and then the ages come into play.  Cows and bulls sound different than heifers and steers.  Each cow sounds different, too.  I have to listen and try to discern if there is a problem, or not. 
Things I listen for and what it may mean:
♣  Bull bawling or growling – he’s letting everyone know he’s available.  No worries here unless the noise is moving closer or farther away.

♣  Cow bawling – usually the calf is on the other side of the electric fence, is full of grass and isn’t too concerned with having milk for a snack.  Sometimes, the calf is just lying there, chewing it’s cud, and the cow is basically yelling at the calf, who is not listening.
Or, a cow is in heat, and there is no bull available, or there is one nearby and too many fences in between.  Passage of time usually cures these two.

♣  Several cows or yearlings bawling – someone jumped the fence and is getting better grass, they want to go too.  My cue to go put in the culprit, before they all knock down the fence.  This happens the most with rapidly growing yearlings or two year-olds – they get hungry and are impatient.  My fix, bigger paddock tomorrow!  And check my fence battery!

♣ All the cows bawling day or night – this means someone (two-legged) that has scared them is nearby.  Go check right away – most usually hunters!

♣  Cows bawling when they see me, if it’s not paddock moving time – probably something is wrong with the water supply.  Could be the electric fence moved and is blocking them from water, or a kink in the hose cut off the supply.  Unlike people, livestock won’t eat without an adequate amount of water.  If you see hay or feed that should have been cleaned up and it’s still there, check the water.  Especially poultry and hogs, they will absolutely go off feed if the water is out.  Sometimes this could alert you to a leak or in the case of cattle, there could be manure in the water trough.  Listening and looking make a difference.  Water, is the single most important thing overlooked, and I’ve done it too, working full time and trying to farm in the dark, or when you come home after a stressful day.  It’s hard to look for these small details. 

♣ Cows giving me the mmmmm moo, that means I’m one of them, and they want what ever is coming next.  Usually food or water.  Routine is every thing.  Della and her calves all talk to me this way, and I talk back in human words.  I could talk to Della all day, she never complains about the food, and if she doesn’t like something I’m doing, she swishes me hard with her tail.  No games – just cow and cowman.

Here’s Lath, since we are her herd, she tells us by mooing at us, if she’s out of water, needs her picket rope moved to fresh grass, or if I’m late with her bucket of milk!  Even though we have raised her, she knows what to say in Cowlish, we just have to listen.

All that being said, I don’t like to let them down, they trust me.

Here are some things I do to make sure that doesn’t happen:

♥  I listen.

♥  I don’t go around yelling.  If the cows hear my voice and it is raised, they will answer.  They can hear me from a mile away and will come if able to.  So I try to only call them when I want to move them.  They are used to my voice, other people can yell and they won’t listen.

♥  I don’t build their new fence unless I’m ready to move them to a new paddock.  If they see or hear me building fence, they think that they will get moved.  If I need to build fence a few days ahead, I do it right after the paddock shift.  They will be busy eating and will not be expecting to be moved again.  Cattle are creatures of habit, building a fence at noon, and then leaving would be very upsetting to the cows.

♥  I try not to have bad thoughts.  Animals and birds can read your mind.  They aren’t encumbered with all the trappings of human existence.  Especially if you are putting out bad vibes.  We had one mobile slaughter guy that had to park where the cows could not see his truck, and then he had to lay down in our pickup while we drove into the pasture, just to get close enough to get a shot.  Another guy we used, could drive right up to the pasture in his truck, get out with his rifle and walk right into the herd and drop a steer so fast, they didn’t even know what was up.  The good guy genuinely liked cattle, and was not apprehensive, to the other guy it was just a disgusting job.  I know you may think this makes the cattle seem dumb, but I’m telling this to illustrate how your demeanor AND thoughts spill over into livestock handling.  For instance, if it’s taking you longer than 15 or 20 minutes to milk out your cow, something is making her not let her milk down.  If a cow is relaxed and trusts you, and isn’t sick (mastitis, etc) you need to look at what your doing.  If Della is mad at me, she will only let down a small amount of milk at a time, and it is hard to milk like that.  That’s when I get out the big gun – her calf, then she lets her milk down and forgets she is mad at me.

Those are just a few of the things that I try to do.  All of the above apply to every species of livestock here.  Some like the turkeys, need more human interaction on the mothering part.  We have learned how to “talk turkey”, with different calls and noises, or sometimes just the tone of our voice.  Turkeys are very smart, (despite all the old tales of turkey stupidity) they just need more care initially in the first few weeks.  Raising turkey poults without the benefit of a mother hen, means I have to be the mother hen :). 

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Strutting his stuff  – doesn’t he look tough!

We can talk to the turkeys, and get them to do this, of course they are only 5″ tall, so they don’t really look too imposing, but we tell them how BIG they are, and they like it.

There are other ways of being aware of our surroundings too.  The pigs bark at cars they don’t know.  If they bark, we listen to them, too.  Sometimes they bark when the dogs do, depending on what the dogs are barking at.  They all listen to each other, and know what the other is saying.

When I go to move the cows, I look at them to see if they are relaxed, mobbed up,  or looking into the woods or into the tall grass.  You never know what it might be.  If the birds are stirred up in the woods, we know it is something a bird is scared of, most likely a cat(of any size) or human.  The jays and woodpeckers hardly make a noise if a dog or coyote is near.  For us, it is as important to know the predator habits, as well as the prey reactions.  These are just a few tips, paying attention to all your surroundings and how your animals are acting, can tell you many things, and make you more in step with your land and all it inhabitants.
To your flock be true!

14 Comments leave one →
  1. August 20, 2008 12:51 am

    That’ll do, That’ll do. Yeah, we are Babe fans here, too! Of course, I kind of like your daughter’s dialogue as well. Wouldn’t that have made a great outtake! I guess I’ve always thought that farm animals think and communicate among themselves and with others. I find them to be fascinating, devoted, love-worthy, funny, interesting, stubborn, ornery … oh wait, I think I’m describing my hubby now. 🙂 In many ways, too, I also believe that you have a gift with your animals in much the same way that a musician makes music. Anyone can learn to play the notes, but not everyone can make music. Anyone can have an animal in their care, but not all of them will care about the animal. You possess a true bonding stewardship of both the land and the critters in your care. Just look at those little gobblers! Not just anyone would take the time and patience to be a surrogate mama and boost the esteem of a little 5″ creature … and then go work in the hay and garden. You’ve got a big heart.

  2. August 20, 2008 3:19 am

    Great post as always – I’ve been trying to get my son, Tom to read your blog. You and I were taught the same about many things. It would be good for him to read these things from someone other than me.

    He’s been home almost a year now. He’s really starting to watch and learn about the animals and ask more questions. I’ve tried to teach him if you listen to the animals, they will tell you all you need to know. I’m quiet in the barn. I don’t like noise as a rule anyway and especially around the animals. I try to be patient and we always stick with a schedule. He’s learning why all of that is so important.

    Cute turkeys 🙂

  3. August 20, 2008 5:27 am

    Part of what I do when making feeding rounds is just listening and observing because it tells me so much about how everyone’s doing. Some weekends Jim’s kind enough to do the feeding 2, 3, 4 times in a row, and I feel like I miss so much in that amount of time. Of course, the control freak in me is just sure that he’s missed all that stuff while out there because he just doesn’t tune in or listen in the same way. 😉

  4. August 20, 2008 7:10 am

    Reminds me of Doctor Dolittle only I think of you as Dr. DoMuch! I’ve enjoyed interacting with animals too and there is SO much to listen for. A horse can hear my heartbeat from 10 feet away and I’m not nearly that sensitive but one can at least try. I like that some are so forgiving (the dogs) but shutter at ever making a mistake with the mule as he’ll never forget. I guess some people are like that too.

  5. August 20, 2008 10:50 am

    Excellent job of describing interactions with and reading of stock. It kills me when you see cattle and horses on TV always bawling and whinnying. If I hear a horse whinny I immediately go see what is wrong…unless the kids are out feeding them or something. They are very silent animals if all is well with them.

    And I laughed right out loud at Bah-damn-you. Perfect!

  6. vicki permalink
    August 20, 2008 8:50 pm

    I love this post. I find, at least in my own experience, its a woman who is more in tune with the animals and can recognize the different “talk”. We also raise cattle and have goats, horses, chickens, dogs, cats. My husband can be clueless as to their needs even tho the cattle are his “job”. I can walk out amongst them and move them quietly where they need to go or they will come when I call (most of the time) but will absolutely ignore him unless he has a bale of hay on the tractor. He gets so frustrated and I do believe they sense that and don’t want anything to do with him! :O We also have many rescue dogs and they look to me as their pack leader. Poor man! 🙂

  7. August 20, 2008 10:03 pm

    Paula, we still snicker about her saying that – of course, now she just rolls her eyes at us. It almost sounds like your describing my hubby – Good ol’ Fred!
    Thank you for your kind words, (and your scrumptious recipes 😉 ) I’m kind of a turkey tease, because the toms blood supply moving and restricting causes their feathers to stand up like that. (If you get my drift) When they are larger, their necks become a brilliant blue when they do that. Hopefully, a photo op to be…

    Debi, you are so right, absolute quiet in the barn! It makes such a difference. Good luck with Tom, he might be listening to you more than you know. My brother was a good teacher, but I can remember myself glazing over, and now I wish I hadn’t just listened, but been smart enough to ask questions, too.

    Danielle, what would the world do without control freaks? Fall apart I think 😉 , but I’m a control freak myself, so I’m biased. You may not be far off, though, men as a general rule, miss quite a bit. But, that is nice he gives you a break now and then.

    Linda, the bad thing about a horse, is generally you have to get on it’s back and they can tell if you’re a little off. My poor dogs have had to forgive me many times… I like watching the wild birds around here, they have such a hierarchy going on between the Redtailed Hawks, Ravens and Crows. It gets quite noisy and comical to watch.

    TC, I think TV gives most people their notions of how animals act, when in reality, it’s not like that at all. She is getting tired of us teasing her about that, we are relentless. Kids do say the darndest things. BTW what does Liz use to shine up the cows for show?

    Vicki, that is so funny about your hubby. It’s the same here, he hates going to check on the cows, because I have too many questions. So I just do the cows now, since they’re my thing anyway. Things go much easier here when it is just us girls, sometimes we let him play bad cop though. But we always get to be good cop!

  8. August 21, 2008 3:45 am

    In Mandy’s case, she is just clipped short and has a naturally shiny coat once you wash her good. On show day, maybe a little wipe down with the least bit of baby oil on a soft cloth. Lots of brushing will bring up the shine too. And of course, black cows are naturally shinier.

  9. August 21, 2008 5:55 pm

    Aaaahhh. Finally got to get my Trapper “Creep” fix. 🙂 Lots doin’ since I was last able to catch up. An anniversary, a birthday, and the usual terrific day-to-day posts. Though the one on the cougar gave me the chills. Your gardens are gorgeous! And I would have to make the same decision if I had a cow like Jetta. Life’s too short to be worried for your safety around an animal.

    But did I miss the link on Trace’s sibs? I couldn’t find it.

  10. tansy permalink
    August 21, 2008 7:32 pm

    my goats are the same way. i know who’s calling and what they want before i see them. and, i’m getting to know my sheep that way too.

    right now, my wwoofers are milking and i miss it. they are so eager to learn, i feel bad if i don’t let them try. but, i had to take over one of the does because she didn’t like someone else milking and kept holding back her milk.

  11. August 21, 2008 11:18 pm

    AMWH, long time no hear – the cougar has only been back once, we haven’t seen him/her, but a neighbor did. I’m afraid to put out the turkeys!
    Poor Jetta, she just wasn’t family cow material. Gorgeous girl, but terrible manners. Here is Trace’s link, he’s on the first picture in the header too.
    http://www.freewebs.com/rockingrmb/

    Tansy, don’t you think it’s a mothering thing, whether it is an animal or a kid? You just know what to listen for.
    I know what you mean about missing milking. Della wants to come home, she is babysitting the heifers until Henry leaves. But she wants to come to the house and be babied and I miss her. They get funny that way, wanting “their” particular people. It is good experience for your wwoofers, though. There is such an interest in small dairy of any kind, and it’s hard to get experience.

  12. August 23, 2008 8:23 pm

    A lovely portrait. It felt like a drowsy evening story… and all is right in the world.

    My Jake had a 1 yr old human “puppy” guest last week, he’s edgy around children so I was careful, and soothed him to be sure he wouldn’t get nervous and get himself in trouble. Soon he loosened up and brought her his ball to play with, dropped it near her feet. When she stood, teetering unsteadily, he pushed it with his nose twice so that it rolled right to her. I think they will soon be real pals, but it bears watching – I’m now more worried that she will hurt him and turn him off of children than the reverse. I love those small moments…. he’s never nudged his ball to me before, even when I’ve ignored his offers to play. So this was an interesting inter-species gesture…he clearly recognized that she is a very “young puppy.”

  13. August 24, 2008 5:57 am

    I look forward to raising cattle but I am a bit fearful that I might get attached to them more than I do the meat birds and turkeys. Would not want to be the trigger man for sure.

    We take good care of our animals and listen to them as well along with the kiddos. There is a lot you can learn paying attention and watching their behaviors and listening to what they have to say.

  14. August 25, 2008 10:46 pm

    Hayden, I don’t blame Jake, kids move so quickly and make strange noises. It sounds like he knew she was pup. How sweet, but you are probably wise to keep an eye out. Kids are more unpredictable than animals, and she might scare Jake. Have you read, FOR THE LOVE OF A DOG, by McConnell?
    Good read about problem dogs, and what motivates them to be problem dogs. (humans of course!)

    Kim, you are probably a natural, being an ER nurse. Sometimes your patients can’t convey what they need, I’m sure. You probably won’t have any trouble with cattle, unless it is a milk cow that you can have a relationship with, it is kind of hard to get attached to a steer. And if you get at least two, so they have company, they won’t be all that friendly.

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