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Lost and found

June 9, 2010

Do you ever have those days where you need to be in 10 places at once, and get 15 things done?  About the 3rd day Della was down, I had a dentist appointment that couldn’t be put off any longer which was in one town, and I needed to pick-up Jane’s special order milk replacer in Portland near the river.  The plan was to get chores done early, hoping that Della didn’t need more than turning, and get out of here early.

The pigs are on full feed, and have an automatic waterer, so I usually do a visual, give them the house compost and cut a few armloads of grass with the sickle and that’s it.  Since we were in a hurry – I glanced in the direction of the barn the pigs were in, and thought to myself, “nah, they’re fine.  I’ll cut their weeds later.”  While my inner chore voice was overriding my niggling chore voice, the niggling voice was nagging, “you should go check…”  I closed off my mind to niggling voice, after all, I had to get Jane’s milk and be back in Gresham by 10:00 am, completely relaxed enough to sit still for the dentist with my sore tooth.  Gah.

What?  All innocent- like.

The day was doomed from the start.  The quickest way to get to inner east side of Portland is the freeway.  If it isn’t the morning commute time.  Still I was in a hurry, side streets and long stop lights were not on my radar.  The only problem with most freeways is that you get stuck in the chute before you realize it.  And of course we did.  20 miles down and 5 to go and we had to slow down to a crawl.  We finally got off the freeway and went for the side street route, and had to navigate road construction on almost every 10 block section.  We got to the feedstore, picked up the milk and headed back to the freeway.  Getting out of town is easy, everyone is headed to the abyss.  So we made good time and got to the dentist with about 30 seconds to spare.  Luckily, they were running a little late, so we could relax a little.  The dentist appointment actually went fine – and I got out of there by the skin of my teeth 😉  And the rest of the day went according to plan, until afternoon paddock shift time.

As much as I go on and on about how much I like electric fencing and rotational grazing, the biggest drawback is that during calving, the fence works too well.  It is a cows nature to bed her calf down for the first 3 days or so, like deer.  The calf mostly sleeps during this time, and the cow sends the calf to a safe place and summons it at nursing time.  Or if the cows can free range in a large pasture they go to the calf. 

Growing up, our cattle had the run of the place and I learned their ways from watching the cows behavior at calving.  They like a private place to calve, on our farm it was usually in the timber in a clean, low traffic area, and always on the flat.  If a cow was missing we could walk or drive the skid roads and scan the woods for a white face.  No point in looking in the canyons, cows do not as a general rule get themselves in predicaments if left their own devices.  Our woods are dark and dense conifer forests, and with old Doug fir windfalls and stumps of much the same color as a ruddy Hereford, you looked for the white face.  It will stick out like a sore thumb, and we had cagey cows too, they knew to turn their faces so they weren’t bothered.  Most of the time we found them, and did a welfare check and slowly backed away.  The only time there was cause for alarm was when a freshly calved cow was bawling.  That meant that the calf was missing – eaten by predators or chased until it finally stopped somewhere when the predator gave up the chase.  So we would look for remains.  Once in a while the cow would find the calf alive and all was well.  The cougars are on about a 3 week circuit – so sometimes it is just luck for the calf or the cougar.  Sometimes we found the kill, dragged several hundred yards, through fences, over thigh-high windfalls and put in a safe place, half-eaten and covered with forest duff.  That is when you quickly leave the canyon and get the heck out of Dodge.  It makes the hair stand up on the back of your neck, as your imagination gets the better of you and you are just sure the cougar is on that stout limb above your head waiting to pounce.  Then you tell yourself, I’m too old and tough, and the cougar is probably full anyway…

When I arrived at the pasture that afternoon (still hadn’t thought of the pigs…) as soon as I shut off the truck I heard bawling.  I didn’t recognize the voice, and the reason was because it was a first calf heifer, she hadn’t much reason to use her voice until now.  I opened the gates and drove over the hill to the swale where they were pastured and found her on the wrong side of the fence.  She had worn a trail next to the herd along the electric fence and also along a permanent fence closer to the woods.  Her calf was nowhere to be seen, and if it was near and where she placed it, she would be nonchalant, not pacing and bawling.  Her bag was tight too, telling me the calf had been gone for some time, and from the looks of the churned up path, she had been pacing for hours.  This baby thing was all new to her, she was torn, between being herd bound and looking for her calf, and the fences were holding her back.  I was sad, this was the day of the huge rainstorm we had last week, and the thought of that little calf being alone out in the Big Scary was awful.  I thought of Jane in her snug box stall, and Della out in the rain unable to get to her calf…  . No time for being sentimental.  I moved the cows and tried to move the heifer away and maybe into the woods, but she would not have any of it, so I put her in with the herd where at least she would calm down a little, and then proceeded to look for the calf.  I could not see a sign of it anywhere.  The calf was a beautiful, strong 2 day old heifer, and her momma had done a good job with her so far.  I was cussing the rotational grazing as I walked everywhere peering through the Devil’s Club and sword ferns looking for a sign of something.  Nothing.  I decided to get home, it was getting late – I needed to finish chores at home and cook dinner.  The feeling of defeat is awful.  I had to resign myself the calf was either all ready gone or might come back on its own.  As I drove out I scanned the perimeter of the woods for the stark white face, and then I saw her!  She was in a place where to get there she would have had to either walk around all the fences and through the canyons to get there or she had went through 3 different barbwire fences to get there.  She was huddled against the storm and was hiding under a huckleberry bush that almost touched the ground from the weight of the heavy downpour.

When I was about 10 I learned the hard way that a newborn calf can trot for hours if it has been disturbed from its bedding down place.  I was a latchkey kid and one day after school I surprised a bedded down calf.  I had no idea that it viewed me as a predator.  I followed it, and it kept going, I didn’t know to get around it and head it back,  I just trotted behind it and  I thought when we got to the first fence it would stop.  After all, the fence kept the cows in, it surely would keep a baby calf in.  Not!  The calf hit the fence and just kept pushing until it wiggled through and then resumed trotting with its tottering gait.  Then we came to another fence and the same thing happened.  By this time it was dawning on me that the calf would continue until it dropped.  I did get around it and stop it before it got the perimeter fence on the county road.  I pushed it down and left.  I was hoping it was tired enough to stay there.   When my brother got home from work, I told him what I had done.  He was pretty good about it and explained a little sternly that under no circumstances was I to disturb any bedded down babies, domestic or wild.  We went and found the calf and caught it and put it in the pickup and took it back to mama.

Now here I was again 52, going on 10.  I went wide through the brush to get on the back side of the calf with hopes I could get it to run within sight of the herd and it’s mom.  Lots of ifs with a scared calf.  As I lumbered through the briars, the calf finally saw me and took off – at least in sort of the right direction, but still heading to the canyon and out of my line of sight.  Not exactly what I wanted but better than nothing.  After I got free from the blackberries and got through the fence and ran over the hill, I saw the calf – on the wrong side of the barbwire of course, but pointed in the direction of the cow herd.  She saw me coming and just like the little calf I had followed so long ago, she hit the wires until she got through.  A moment of elation as she headed south towards the cows and then heartsickness as she veered west and headed away from the herd.  As she was trotting away though, her mom bellered and she stopped and flicked an ear and then took off again.  So it went for 200 yards:  bellow, listen, trot away, repeat.  She kept westerly until she hit the last fence and apparently not up to the challenge she headed due north right to the canyon and as far away as she could probably get from safety.  I was beat.  I had already spent hours looking for her and now if I pursued her more while she was scared I would probably just drive her deeper into the forest and the jaws of who knows what.  I gave up.  I was back to if it is meant to be that you will survive, you will survive, but I am certainly not going to chase you and scare you anymore.  So I left.  I still had to go home, turn Della, and do evening chores…then fix dinner with a smile on my face 😀  😦

I drove home, glum about the missing calf, and the pouring rain didn’t help my mood whatsoever.  As I neared the last corner before the house driveway, I saw two animals standing in the road, the windows were fogged up, and I thought WTHeck?  Who around here has red cattle dogs?  They were standing in the road like little lost dogs, that don’t know where they are…and then as I got closer, I saw the erect ears, the red and black spots and Oh S&*t!  The pigs!!!  Then niggling chore voice became loud and clear, “you should have listened to me this morning, that’s $170.00 down the drain you know.”  It’s times like this when driving the Wreck of the Hesperus comes in a handy!  In town a  bad muffler is frowned upon, out here a bad nonexistent muffler becomes a pig herding tool!  I revved the motor and those pigs turned tail and went wee-wee-wee all the way home, kind of.  The last I saw of them as I drove by, was their little hams wiggling through the fence.  At least they were on the inside and not in the road.  I drove to the house, rousted out Ruthless and we grabbed the pig boards and went on a pig hunt.  As we neared the barn, they got scared and went back out on the road.  So just like the calf, I had to get around them and head them back.  I was a known scary thing, maybe getting back in and staying in wouldn’t be such a bad idea.  I could see them thinking this as we chased them back towards their pen.  And the pen was another story, if I had checked on them in the morning I would have seen an area they had been rooting and had lifted the panel up just enough to slip under.  My fault, for quickly building a weak temporary pen, and for not checking them…pigs are smart, they saw their escape route and shot right in as if they had planned the whole thing.  And we breathed a big sigh of relief.  I now check the pigs frequently…and have decided to maybe be a little more careful when I name an animal.  No joy riders names for farm animals!

As for the calf – the next morning we hurriedly finished our chores and went prepared to search until we found her.  The Coyote field that the cows are in right now always gives me a pit in my stomach anyway – it lays like a rumpled up blanket with keylines going every which way.  For most of the field, you can’t see the cows until you are right on the knoll above them.  And with rotational grazing you don’t want them out-of-place.  We were hoping to top the rise and see a contented herd with calves and mommas near each other.  And we did.  The spotted heifer had her little spotted heifer by her side.  Phew!

The last time I checked everyone was in the right place – but today is another day…

17 Comments leave one →
  1. June 9, 2010 7:12 am

    I’m exhausted just reading that! Sheesh!

    Here’s hoping that your critters stay put today and that you don’t have to tangle with the dreaded I-5 traffic again anytime soon. 😉

    *Kisses for baby Jane*


  2. Marcia/WY permalink
    June 9, 2010 7:33 am

    Wow – have had days like those! Makes you really appreciate the easy-peasy days where everything goes just like it should. When our pigs get out they head STRAIGHT for the garden/yard/flowers…as do the sheep who manage to rip off buds and branches as they run past :))

  3. June 9, 2010 7:36 am

    beats working in an office! :p

    i’m glad your critters were okay. what a chase.

  4. June 9, 2010 7:41 am

    Yup. Sounds like my days sometimes. A young one leaves the gate open and the sheep get out. The boys (Rocky the Ram & Bullwinkle the steer) escape through the hoop house door that needs repair. And Pearl & Petaluma got out within an hour of bringing them home. The result of a too-quick-devised pen and piggies missing their mom. We spent 18 hours chasing them around and were pretty tired and hungry when we finished. I feel for you!

  5. June 9, 2010 8:49 am

    Nita, while I know this day was difficult, I want to know what time you fixed supper? I have to tell you that this post was like reading a wonderful novel. Your words pulled me in and while frustrating for you, it was an amazing story. You should write a book.

    I had to chuckle about the pigs… “those pigs turned tail and went wee-wee-wee all the way home, kind of. ”

    I find this so interesting as I was a city girl growing up and the wildest thing we ate was fish. LOL!

  6. June 9, 2010 8:53 am

    I HATE days like that! I am so glad it worked out well for you. We don’t have big cats to worry about here, although, they have traveled down the ditchbank, but for some reason not stopping. (I hope I didn’t just jink us) Yeah for everyone save and sound. You had a really hard day.


  7. Kay permalink
    June 9, 2010 9:21 am

    Oh my. Funny but irritating all at the same time 😉 I am glad everything turned out okay.

  8. June 9, 2010 10:09 am

    Yay! A happy ending for a farm tale. That was a good story.

  9. Tami permalink
    June 9, 2010 10:37 am

    One time I looked over at the feedlot across the way and I thought to myself…wow, they have a Jersey over at the feedlot?? No, wait…look again…that is my Jersey over at the feedlot…that was fun. Great story! Glad you had a happy ending!

  10. June 9, 2010 10:59 am

    Whew. I feel like I need a nap just reading about it! Glad everyone is home and safe.

  11. susan permalink
    June 9, 2010 12:37 pm

    What an ordeal! It’s great that it turned out okay – isn’t it amazing how hindsight is always 20/20? It always pays to listen to the niggling voice…

  12. June 9, 2010 1:45 pm

    What a day!

  13. June 9, 2010 6:38 pm

    Reminds me of the time we came home from work one day to find the neighbors cow had gotten out and was staring us down in our driveway. After banging on their door for 15 minutes that didn’t seem to wake anyone up, we tried to herd the cow back into the pasture, but cow had other ideas. It was freezing cold and howling winds and pitch black and Hubby and I had no idea how to go about catching a cow. It took off down the other neighbors driveway and all you could see was the glint of the cow’s eyes when our flashlight hit it. It felt eerie and Husband didn’t need to tell me if the cow started charging, to get out of the way. a couple hours later, we gave up and went to bed, pooped and cold. The next morning, the neighbor found the cow a couple of pastures down the road next to a herd of cows. Turned out, the cow was looking for some male companionship.

    Nothing compared to your day, but I’m glad it ended well.

  14. Robbyn permalink
    June 10, 2010 6:34 am

    Funny LATER…ha! So glad everyone (finally) got home happily. You sure got your workout that day. I never knew that about the cows bedding down their calves like deer do their fawns. Are all the beef cattle doing well with their little ones? Your animals always look so well cared-for. Kaleb sends dog smiles to T and M. His shaved back half is grown out a little so that now he looks like a soft powder puff, heh 🙂

  15. June 10, 2010 6:40 am

    Wow…what a day you had! And I think I have bad days sometimes…mine are NOTHING compared to that day. Geez. I feel really bad for you that you’re still having all that wet weather. It sounds like all the Pacific Northwest and into central Canada are having a wet cool spring. I hope your summer is better! Good luck with the animals and I hope you have a better day today….Maura 🙂

  16. June 10, 2010 10:46 am

    Been there and done that with a calf but never with a Thelma and Louise. I’m super careful about naming certain animals……it can get you into trouble 😉

  17. June 11, 2010 1:41 am

    Well, it sounds like you got your exercise for the day!! When you raise livestock… who needs a gym??

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