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Saturday, June 18, 2011

Following the Herd

Tuesday night, a herd of cattle appeared in the meadow behind our house. They were two weeks early.

Davey and Pat, two of our neighbors had grazed a herd of steers in our meadows for a couple of months last year after their grass had been devoured. Seems like our meadows mature a bit later in the spring. So, this year, we added a steer to the herd, and told Davey he could add our upper meadow to his grazing lease. Davey's an efficient guy, a finish carpenter by trade, and a farmer by rearing. He hammered in T-posts all around the upper meadow and strung a line of white PVC-coated fiberglass electric wire about halfway up the posts. He said he'd string the lower wire before he brought the steers on in about two weeks. Great.

We've had a really rainy spring, and the grass was tall and lush. From a distance, where you couldn't discern the grass from the weeds, it looked like a BBC documentary on Irish farming. So, we were looking forward to having the cattle come on. But not so soon.

On Tuesday morning, I awoke to find nine steers from the herd in the meadow behind our house. Problem was, the lower meadow fence hadn't been completed, and our gate to the county road was open. In a sweatsuit and slippers, I hazed the nine back into Davey's land, and shut the wire and slat gate behind them. A job well done, I thought. Until Wednesday, when they showed up back in our meadow. OK, fine. Let them stay in the meadow, chewing their cuds. I shut the gate to the county road and waited for the rain to come. Which, it did. Next time I looked out the back window, they were gone. I drove my Honda ATV, with Kerry on the back, up our driveway, and found them on the backside of the hill overlooking our lower meadow. So, slowly, we hazed them back down to our meadow. Then, later that evening they disappeared again. Kerry and I got back on the ATV, which started having clutch slippage problems (it's now back in the shop), and went looking for the herd.

The next morning, they were gone. Seriously gone. We went up the driveway overlooking the upper meadow. No steers. We went up to our putative house site and looked down the hill toward the lower meadow. No steers. We drove down to the spring and the base of the upper meadow. Still no steers. Back at the house, we strung a lariat between old gate posts across our driveway, and strung orange and pink surveyor's tape from the rope to discourage the steers from coming down into our front yard. Then called Davey and Pat. Got answering machines for both. After a bit, Pat's son-in-law came over to get the lay of the land, and said he'd come back the next morning.

But, Thursday morning, I found the steers - lying comfortably in the meadow north of Davey's property. Happy to let sleeping steers lie, we waited until Davey got home from a carpentry job and hazed the cattle from that neighbor's meadow, onto the county road, and back to his meadow, from where they originally started their odyssey. According to Davey, one of the cattle figured out how to open his gate to the county road, using its tongue to slip off a bungee cord holding the gate sections shut. The gate is now chained shut. Let's see the Houdini steer escape now!

They should be back on our land in about two weeks. On purpose.

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