It is that time of the year when I do not feel fully comfortable until I have driven past the last group of cows and made sure they are in. I cannot be the only one who has that little feeling of dread every morning when I start out from home and make my way around each bunch of cows. I will say that the feeling of relief is surprisingly good on those mornings when I do find everything where they are supposed to be – rare but good.
Here lately that has been the case – well, except for two black heifers. I will give them one thing: they are predictable and consistent. For the past five or six mornings I have gone on my routine route and found them out grazing on a brome field a fair bit from where they are supposed to be. They are still on our property, just not in the right place.
The first time I thought it was an anomaly and I deployed the dog from great distance. Roo did her thing, and all I saw were tails and dust as she chased them back in. This was quick and effective but not necessarily helpful. I did not see who the offending heifers were or where they got out, and the hole in the fence was not apparent.
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Before we go any farther, let me set the scene. I have fenced the cattle into a native meadow but I left the exterior fence around the Sudan and brome for this very reason. It holds the perimeter, but I also have to open a gate and follow a trail to get back to where the cows are getting back in. By the time I navigate it, they are back and chewing their cud. It should not have been hard to figure out who they were except that roughly half of the herd is black and they did an excellent job of blending in once they were back in the pasture.
I decided I was not dealing with ordinary heifers but the kind that were too smart for me. This went on two more mornings until I got a little wiser and put Roo next to me in the cab. I was successful in quieting the dog but between the sound of the side-by-side and Roo’s muffled barks, I still could not get the jump on the offending heifers. It had become a game to them, and I was starting to get frustrated.
Then came the morning when we got a rain shower. I made my rounds like normal and to my surprise the brome field was empty. I went on around and checked the cows. I was in the middle of doing that when I got a phone call. I stopped the side-by-side to talk, and all of the cows gathered around thinking I was stopping to feed them.
As I sat there, mobbed by cows, guess who came up to the fence and showed themselves. They may have been smart, but they were not too smart to be able to resist the idea that I possibly had some alfalfa for them. I got out, still talking on the phone, let the fence down and they walked back in.
I saw a look of relief in their eyes, like the criminal who wants to be caught. I felt pretty smug that I had gotten them in and done two things at once.
This eliminated one mystery but not another. Now I knew who was getting out but not where.
Well, sometimes you have to know to quit when you are ahead. I caught the two offending cows and brought them home to a better pen. All I can say is they better hope they are bred because they will not get a second chance.
I went about my business feeling really smug, like I had outsmarted two lame brain heifers. Then reality hit me.
First, I had figured out who they were only because I got really lucky. If I had not stopped to talk on the phone and the lure of alfalfa had not been too much for them, their identity would still be a mystery. That alone was enough to take the wind out of my sails, but it did sort of justify all the time I spend on the phone.
However, what really got me was the realization that I thought I had gotten the better of them when at this very moment they are in the lot, drinking fresh cool water and eating the best brome hay instead of being out on the meadow and drinking from the pond. I was the one who got suckered. Then I was reminded of the old saying; “The only thing dumber than a cow, is the guy who owns them.”
Glenn Brunkow is a fifth-generation farmer in the Northern Flint Hills of Pottawatomie County in Kansas. He was a county Extension educator for 19 years before returning to farm and ranch full time. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.