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Monday, December 30, 2013

Cow Tails From The Vineyard: It's All About The Moos

It is a rather slow time in the vineyard. Rich has finished weed wacking all of Block 2, and when the weather permits I will get out there and finish our first pruning on Block 1....I am about half done.
Rich headed back up north today. Christmas just passed and he wanted to be back up in New England for New Years and to help out at Fenway as they use the baseball field for winter hockey. "We" also need to do some repairs with the trellis system in our Nortons. I say "we" because Rich gave me instructions on what he needs to have done before he comes back down to kick start the 2014 season.

But now about the Moos. There are three different kinds of Moos. There may be more but I have only begun to recognize these first three. There is the "I am really hungry" moo, there is the "Where is my calf?" moo, and then there is the "Someone is or will soon break out of the pasture" moo.

It is very important to recognize these moos, for to ignore them will lead to certain disaster and an evening full of frustration and disappointment. It is always better to declare DEFCON 1. the highest alert status possible, than hoping for the best and assume nothing is going to happen. There are mere minutes between a red alert Moo and total chaos.I was on the unfortunate side of this error in judgement the other night, and though the final result was positive, it made for a nightmare of a night.

It really began earlier in the day. We had three jailbreaks during daylight hours, and three times Chris, Rich, and I were within the width of the field as we saw the cows jump or break fences. For each of these we managed to get the cows back in the field, and subsequently repair the fences. The fact is that if a cow wants to jump a fence (it's more like a WWF body slam), they will do it even knowing it might make a mark in their suede coat. Barbed wire is a joke.

We had gone around inspecting the fence one last time before dinner, and we had just polished off our last glass of wine when a fellow farmer called me on the phone and suggested that there were some cows loose (red ones at that) and they had been seen by a neighbor maybe a half mile away from our fields. The point here was that we had heard a moo at around 6 and blew it off. The call came in at around 6:30. Knowing the daily history of our cattle, and also knowing I am the only red angus breeder in this area, putting 2 + 2 together was not difficult.

Chris and I threw on our jackets and proceeded to walk up the main road towards where we were told the cattle were last seen. On our trip there a pick up truck approached us from behind and stopped. It was another concerned farmer who had received the same call.....he was going to check on his gates to see if there had been an escape by his cows. The verdict came quickly....his cows were still in, mine were huddled against the woods near his cattle just plotting their next move. By this time they had walked another half mile further away. Walking to get to them now was out of the question. It was time to get the truck and see if, by holding a bucket of corn while riding the tailgate, we could entice them to turn around on their exodus and return home. It was a trial that turned unsuccessful. It worked for a few hundred yards, but then the lead cow became disinterested in all carrot and no feed, so it suddenly veered off to the side pasture, taking all 7 cows and calves with it. They even stopped at a home and decided to take a loop around their barn and house, leaving cow plops along the way. We even let the leader (U204) have a nibble, but once the pail was emptied it no longer held her interest. Obviously this approach wasn't working; time for Plan B.

We now left the truck back at the beginning, where by now the cattle had reversed themselves and returned to. Chris was to walk on one side, I on the other to see if we could turn them. We were able to reverse them and sort of get them headed in the right direction. It was hurtful to watch. A cow's straight line did not resemble any I had ever drawn. A stop over at a pump house to nibble on some uncut weeds around its parameter. Another walk back out to the road slowing a few cars who saw the animals wandering around the asphalt. Rich by now had shown up in the ATV, where he and Chris changed roles. Chris became our resident cowboy as he motored up the right side of the herd "keeping them" from taking a side exit into the woods. This worked well until he dropped into a ditch, whereby he needed to be towed out later after we got the cows home.

The cows now had taken the last turn in the road and probably recognized their fate. They saw the house in the distance and  kept a steady pace along the side of the road. Cars were now backed up a few hundred yards up, and the one I talked to shared  with me her loose cow stories. She appreciated the mess we were in, but at that point it almost  looked like we had it under control. The cows continued, and turned up our driveway headed right to the front of the house, a site they were quite familiar with from previous adventures. So much so that they knew that here was the best grass in the area, and the cul de sac in front became a stopping place to eat up some relatively tall grass. Compared to the dead or dying grass in the fields it must have been almost gourmet like. We, along with the calves, were tired. To let them munch on grass at this juncture was welcome. The calves either lied down or decided a nice warm milk meal was needed. For thirty minutes we all stayed still. I was trying to decide how long we were going to let this go on. We were in control, weren't we ?

But the "driver" in Rich came forward. His patience had run out so he decided to start pushing them to the gate they had broken through. By this time I was in a nice warm truck keeping the headlights pointed on the cattle. Chris created a border on the backside and also ran ahead to open the gate for easy access. It wasn't so easy though; it is much easier to open repaired gates in the daylight than in total darkness. We got them in finally, and proceeded to mend the fence once again. I went and got a couple bales of hay and Chris and I moved them to the middle of the field thinking that that would keep them in for the rest of the night. Little did we know.

The next morning I was greeted in my back yard by the four cows. They were mooing loudly. Seems that they were able to crack the code to get out, but the repairs were too tough for the calves to figure out so they stayed behind (personally I think they fell asleep inside the pasture fences while their mothers had another "Mom's Night Out"). These were the "Where are my calves?" moo that I was hearing after having only a few hours sleep following our exciting evening of events.

I talked to them, like a parent who was just too tired to lecture anymore. All of us went over to the gate and with some coaching, got them to go in without the calves deciding to run out. It all ended where it all began. The cows had their night on the town. Between the 2nd jailbreak and their really unproductive tour of the neighborhood that finished with their eating my front lawn, they were full and spent the day resting and plotting their next move. Need less to say, Chris, Rich, and I spent that day fixing the fence and planning on installing electric. The cows may have won the battle (or at least tied). I will win the war. The next cow that decides to explore the world in the name of the Queen may be dubbed Sir Loin of Elberon !

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