The Conclusion To
Back In The Cattle Again? No Way!
"What is that?"
"It's a disker."
"It's a pile of rust!"
"It's only 20. . .30. . .40 dollars!"
"We don't even have a tractor!"
"We will someday."
I jumped up and snatched the bidding card from his hand. His eyes went back to normal, and the disker went home with somebody else. It was a close call, though, and I vowed to keep a better eye on him.
But my mind drifted to images of dessert, and I hardly noticed when the auctioneer motioned us all over to a three-sided barn full of cows. A single black and white calf paced anxiously around one of the paddocks, and the auctioneer started the bidding. Unlike a livestock sale barn, there were no giant scales and lighted signs showing the current bid price per hundredweight--or even the weight of the animals. These cows were to be sold the same way as a table or a chainsaw: one item, one price, no guarantee on anything--and all sales final.
Things started off slowly but then picked up as two determined bidders furiously went at it. I glanced up at my husband who had climbed the paddock fence to get a better view. Oh no.
"What are you doing?" But the fever had returned. His entire body was quivering. "You're bidding on a cow!"
"I know. And he's a good looking little guy, too."
"YOU'RE BIDDING ON A COW!"
Every head turned toward us, and the auctioneer was silent. This was only slightly less embarrassing than the time an auctioneer had once put down his microphone to politely inform my husband and me that we were bidding against each other.
It was too late, though; even total humiliation could not faze auction fever. He not only bought a steer "for the freezer," but "a little heifer to keep him company" as well. What was to become of the little heifer after the steer moved into the freezer was never discussed.
After convincing the lady in charge of collecting money to accept our check even though my husband had only a temporary (and very suspicious looking) Missouri driver's license (evidently we were the only people at the entire auction that she didn't know), we arranged for delivery of our approximately 800-pound purchase. We paid $7.50 per cow to be hauled 15 miles, though our notes from The Cattle Congress said it should cost $2.00 to transport a cow 90 miles. The disadvantages of having such a small herd were quickly becoming obvious.
The cows were deposited at the far edge of the field near the house, and there they stayed, patiently waiting for someone to come back and get them. After about a week they realized they were stuck here, so they ambled into the barnyard and proceeded to take over the farm.
They immediately claimed one of the barn stalls as their own and lounged in it whenever they weren't out covering the choicest niblets of clover with their colossal cow chips. They insisted on eating all of the clean bedding hay in the barn. They declared the pond where the sheep drank to be their private swimming pool and spent hours each day completely submerged except for their giant eyes, flaring nostrils, and twitching tails.
Advised by farmer friends that their skinnydipping was probably an attempt to relieve the symptoms of "fescue fever," a constant elevated temperature caused by eating the fescue grass so prevalent around here, we rushed out and spent $40 on a 125-pound carton (the smallest size available and about a five year supply for two cows) of a special molasses-based mineral mix designed to combat the problem.
While every barnyard animal in the universe devours molasses like kids devour candy--including the sheep, who were not allowed to eat the "Fescue Lyx" because it contained copper, which can be toxic to sheep--our cows refused to touch it. Our ever helpful friends, who claimed their calves are born with an addiction to the stuff, said they were simply too young. After months of hauling 125 pounds of molasses goo in and out of the barnyard, we hefted the by-then-moldy cardboard carton into the bed of the pickup ck and hauled it over to our friends' junkie cows. Within five minutes they had consumed the entire $40, including the moldy cardboard.
Except for the shared molasses hatred, the two cows were extreme opposites. Oreo, black with a white stripe around his middle and acutely aware of the lack of males around the farm, quickly set about becoming the World's Friendliest Steer--thereby ensuring a fate as pet rather than entree. Harriet, the unoriginally named Hereford heifer and a haughty troublemaker, refused to be touched. This, combined with the fact that we had not invested in a $2,000 head chute for our herd of two, meant that it was impossible to vaccinate her. The dewormer, a liquid applied to a spot on the back, was squirted at her from a distance.
Understandably, the sheep did not like Oreo and Harriet. They were big and lazy and they smelled funny. They made a mess of the barn and they had flies. Rolling Thunder, the sheep's extremely fastidious guard llama, despised them. And as winter descended and it became clear that the cranky, hungry cows had no intention of foraging in the snow for any portion of their daily intake and demanded as much hay as the entire flock of sheep, we began to loathe them, too.
It was too late to sell them, though, our cattle expert friends informed us; auction prices were down for the season and still falling. Better to wait until spring. So we watched the snow pile up and forced the cows out to forage. Ordinarily we rotate the animals between pastures, but in the winter food is scarce, and we let them wander wherever they like. They are usually very good about staying in the mostly fenced fields and not venturing in to the woods. But no hungry animal can resist a wide open gate.
I refer to it as The Great Cow Caper, though The Last Straw would really be more appropriate. My husband returned from getting the mail one particularly snowy day and was clearly distressed.
"I need your help. NOW!"
It seems that he had decided to leave the gate at the entrance to the property open while he made the ten minute trip to our mailbox out at the highway. At the time there were no animals anywhere near the gate, and besides, a metal cattle guard spans the entire opening. But just as he rounded the corner on his way back, he caught sight of Harriet sailing over the four feet of cattle guard. Oreo was not far behind. He jumped out of the truck and ran along the fenceline after them, but they vanished into the woods.
We returned to the getaway scene and trudged through the snow, following their trail of hoofprints. The terrain is steep and rugged and progress was slow. We figured that our lazy, ambling cows could not have gotten far. We were very wrong. We watched in amazement as their trail winded its way up and down hills, around trees, over huge rocks. Panting and exhausted and frustrated to no end, my husband simply muttered over and over, "I can't believe 1000 pounds of bovine just evaporated!"
It did seem rather hopeless, and if they had not been worth so much money we would have gladly let them go. We laughed at the thought of some lucky rabbit hunter shooting two wild cows and lugging them home to his wife.
After about 3/4 of a mile we finally caught up with them. But we still had to get them onto our land. Herding them back to the gate would be impossible. Instead we knocked down part of our fence and spent twenty minutes trying to coax them through the opening. Harriet wouldn't come near us, and every time we got close to Oreo she lured him away. My husband was livid and ran after them, shouting that he was going to turn them both into steaks right there in the snow.
We did eventually get them back into our field, though I honestly cannot recall how we did it. I do remember that we agreed then and there that it was time to get rid of the cows, low prices or not. We called the sale barn and were given the name of a man who said he would haul them the 40 miles for $40. He backed his 24-foot trailer into the barnyard (after hitting a few fenceposts along the way) and slid the doors open. The cargo was lured into the trailer with an armful of hay, and we waved goodbye with a sigh of relief as they drove off.
Oreo and Harriet gained about 350 pounds while they were at Windridge, and we still lost $100 per cow. We think we got off cheap; we almost lost our minds. Time has passed, and we can laugh about it all now, but when we sit back in winter and give thanks, the first thing one of us always says is, "Thank goodness we don't have those cows!"
There are more stories where these came from. I'll post an announcement on Farmgirl Fare when the next one is up.
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