‘Til the Cows Come Home
Here’s the thing about spring: it causes trouble. I yearn for this season just as much as the next red-blooded mammal hoping to soak up some warmth and vitamin D, absorbing rays on a cellular level as if my body is made of chlorophyll. I’m a sucker for the robins that settle in the pasture, pulling worms from the black dirt that’s just waking up again. And don’t get me started about the transformation from putrid greige foliage to vibrant vermillion. Don’t even get me started. I love spring.
But it comes each year, and especially on a farm, as a negotiation. To get the green, I have to endure the storms – Texas-sized storms – that explode and billow from blue sky. That blow with such force the birds lose flight and slam into our windows. The treetops swirl and spin from the tornadic force tucked into the folds and fury of those clouds. Every storm brings a 50/50 chance of real destruction. But without them, and the rain, I don’t get the green. The very same green I long for emerges as a temptress to all the ruminants that amble our fence lines. For them, the grass really is greener on the other side. It’s during the springtime that we experience the majority of our livestock escapes. I dread, worship, loathe, and crave this season all at once. It’s a complicated set of emotions.
Which is why yesterday, a day filled with gale-force wind right after a storm dropped rain and greened up all the grasses just on the other side of the fence, I should have double and triple secured the gate that contained all four of my cows and our two bucks (who still live together in a bizarre, but tight-knit family). I should have known, when I went to check on them at 5pm, that the aforementioned gale-force wind may blow the secured gate open, that the luminescent green grasses would lure them through the open gate, down our long driveway, across the street, and down the path of a neighbor’s heavily wooded ranch.
I should have known.
I was not certain that was their route, but a quick call to the neighbor confirmed they were sighted skipping and frolicking in the woods at the ranch. A quick text to Jeremy (“Get. Home. Now. Cows. Out. They. Are. Assholes”), and a few overly-dramatic moments of shouting later (imagine me slowly falling to my knees, “Why, God, Why?!”), found us crawling and ducking through densely wooded acreage. Thanks to the previous night’s storm, their tracks were visible – everywhere. From the looks of things, they did the Samba across 50 + acres, no rhythm to their path, swaths of cow-sized brush cleared that would dead-end into fallen trees, seemingly impenetrable, then the path picked up again just beyond it. It careened towards a fence, veered sharply, and was delicately dotted with both cow and goat manure. The bizarre little family was still together. The neighbor last spotted them at 4:30, and we covered every inch of the property from 5pm until nearly 8:30, past sundown, a time I consider the witching hour out here. It is when the wild hogs come creeping, the coyotes prowl, and things go “slither” in the brush. Our search was over for the night. I came home heavy and defeated.
Last night I didn’t sleep. I thought about Winnie deep in the forest/jungle, then about Octavian and Boss, virtual sitting ducks, in the wilderness without their Pyrenees to protect them. I imagined them curled together, shivering with fear, thirsty and cold, terrified, likely wailing pathetically for their farm mama (that is me, in this fantasy scenario) to come rescue them. Oh! I thought how grateful they would be, how we would run towards each other with arms and hooves outstretched, slow-motion – across a meadow dotted with butterflies to the soundtrack of “Reunited.” They needed me, they wanted to come home if only they knew how. It was a ridiculous night of worry. This morning we woke extra early to complete milking/feeding chores to be at the ranch for a new search by sun-up. In my continuing fantasy, I assumed they would creep from their pathetic state of shivering fear just when the sun rose and start to pace the fence line, moo-ing for their rescuers.
Instead, I found the ranch we had covered (and re-covered, and covered again) exactly as we had left it the night before – completely devoid of the renegade, asshole livestock. The same hoof and manure-pocked trails leading to nowhere. This time my voice cracked as I called their names, as it suddenly occurred to me: they may have vanished. Like, forever. With that fear clawing my guts, I looked more carefully at the trails I had followed, and realized one cut in a direction I had not ventured yesterday. I climbed downed trees and ducked beneath tangles of Devil’s Vine, side stepped coyote scat, dodged prickly pear cactus that towered at my height. Suddenly the path cleared and revealed an abandoned house (Creepy y’all. Real, real creepy) surrounded by an assortment of barns in various states of disrepair – all of the buildings encircled an enormous pond. One barn still contained an old round bale, the sight of which quickened my pace because, although I still know very little about livestock, there is one thing for which I am certain: where there is hay, there are livestock. I looked down and found a fresh pile of goat manure and suddenly cried out their names – they were close. At that moment, I heard Jeremy crash through the woods behind me, and yell, “THERE!!! They are RIGHT THERE!” I had been so intent on my inspection of manure that I failed to notice a small group of cows and goats lounging luxuriously on the banks of the pond. “MAH BAAABBBIIEEEEESS!!!” I shouted dramatically, arms outstretched, anticipating the sentimental reunion that was soon to occur. Instead, I saw six pairs of eyes shift around slowly, six mouths stop suddenly in mid-chew. They became stone-still as if hoping, perhaps, we had not seen them. If a cow can roll its eyes, I am certain Clementine did just that, while sighing deeply with annoyance: “CRAP – they found us.”
We safely cajoled, pulled, pushed, jogged alongside, herded, and were head-butted down a 50 acre lane, across a fairly busy road on which Jeremy directed traffic as I pulled one large Jersey cow across while two amorous bucks attempted to simultaneously head-butt and hump me. I even waved at a gentleman who scowled since I blocked the road as he tried to make his way into work. To you, sir, you are welcome for the excellent story I am sure you told at the office this morning! And to all of you, hoping desperately for a moral to this sordid tale, here it is: All the time – and mostly in spring – use a very stout lock on your gates. And don’t, my goodness, don’t expect the animals to miss you once they’ve sprung your joint. Chances are good the ungrateful jerks will only resent that you’ve found them.