When Cows Go Rogue – Part 1

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When Cows Go Rogue

Last Tuesday, our cattle hauler pulled up in his oversized semi hauler, opened the back gate, and let 17 cattle out into our front pasture. They took off at a full run like, well, a pack of wild beasts. Excited, we leaned on the fence like cowboys and watched them. Then, after about two minutes, the blonde Scottish Highland, Bonnie, hopped over a four-foot barbed wire and electric fence, followed by her friend Clyde and took off across the farm. We took off running too, some of us for trucks, some on foot. We spent the next five hours combing the property, calling neighbors, and checking adjacent public access parcels. We guessed they would head for cover and water, so we checked mostly the stream banks and woods of nearby properties.

The sun set, a thunderstorm rolled in, and we still hadn’t found them. We went home and went to bed. The other fifteen cows happily munched some grass, drank some water and did the same.

 

Three days later we’re out working on fence and the neighbor rolls by on his tractor. “You lose a calf?”

“Two!” We said.

“I got one of em up at my place. Hanging out on the road. Come take a look.”

Sure enough, Clyde has been hanging out in the woods near a farm a mile away, eating pasture with horses and other cows by day and coming down to get water at night. We found out that Bonnie has been hanging around a dairy farm nearby. The daughter saw her one day and wouldn’t go get the cows for evening milking. “No way am I gettin the cows,” she told our neighbor. “There’s a woolly beast out there!”

We drove up quick to meet the dairy neighbor, who just stood totally nonchalant in his barn and nodded at our anxious expressions. “I’ll just let em in my pasture,” he said. “Then I’ll load her up on my trailer once she’s in the barn.” We couldn’t have been more happy, and he less animated.

Clyde, is hiding out down the road and has thwarted several attempts to track him through the woods: hopping fences, hunkering down in the woods, and acting generally super wild. The plan is to eventually get him into our neighbor’s paddock where we can corral him to pick him up. Clyde’s caretaker has taken us out cow tracking numerous times now. “He’s hard to see in the woods and he jumps fences like deer, but when he’s hanging out with my cows in the pasture, he sticks out like a turd in a punchbowl .”

 

Essentially, we’ve got two wild cows on our hands! To us this means panic. To our neighbors, nothing to raise your eyebrows at. Meanwhile, the rest of the herd is grazing peaceful in their pasture. Why’d the first two run?

Cattle are prey animals, which is why they form and travel in herds. While placidly munching grass, cattle are naturally on high alert for predators. This is illustrated in African savannas, and we’ve got a similar thing going on in our own midwestern savanna. These cows had spent their whole lives on their own in a large fenced-in woodland, and had never traveled on a truck before.. The three days before they came they had spent trapped in the back of a barn, and then endured a two hour bumpy ride in trailer to get here. They ran off the truck in a panic, looked around, and leapt the fence. Now they’re chilling out in the woods just doing what they know how to do, and surviving!

We think that reincorporating these two with their brothers and sisters, who are super calm, will restore the herd dynamics and get things back to normal. Cattle learn, too. We’ve had a week during which the other animals have grown more accustomed to us and are now not nearly as flighty. The same will most likely happen with these guys, we just need to get them back with their friends and on this lush pasture. Thanks to our neighbors, we can probably work with them to corral our animals in with theirs.

What have we learned from all this?

  1. Cattle get out. We need systems in place to get them back in and, more importantly, keep them happy where they’re at. All of the neighbors have cattle out ALL the time. We had no idea, and were pretty panicked. But cattle are curious and naturally test boundaries. We move our cattle every day, which means they constantly get a new pasture with fresh grass. We hope that this will eliminate their desire to get out to where “the grass is greener.” We’re also busy shoring up the entire property’s perimeter barbed-wire fence, which isn’t easy but certainly necessary.
  2. Neighbors are awesome. Good neighbors are essential in farming. No doubt we will one day help herd other folks’ animals back home, and be around to help when a field needs haying in a pinch.
  3. We can always design a better system. Ideally, we would breed our own cows instead of transport them. A cow raised from a baby on your farm is going to know all the ropes. We can work towards a goal of having super happy cows who feel safe. A curious, happy cow is a good cow. A pent-up, bored, hungry cow is trouble. We aim for systems that make healthy, happy animals.

 

All in all, we are super excited to have located these two and can’t wait to get them home again!