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Cows on the Loose

I woke up wide-eyed and held my breath, listening. Hearing rustling in my parents room nearby I knew right away that my guess was correct - the cows were out. When you live on a farm you know exactly what noises means cows aren't where they should be - the pounding of hoofs on the ground under your window or a moo coming from a very unfamiliar direction outside. By the time dad was headed down the stairs so was I, with my sister and mom on our heels. When I passed by the clock in the kitchen I saw it was just past midnight. After high school the day before I had one of the hardest track practices so far this season, and I was sore. Who knew I'd get in another workout before the next track practice the following day!

Call me crazy, but I get really excited when the cows are out. I told my husband recently that it's a bit of a thrill to get into that "save the day" mode. My mind becomes focused and the adrenaline kicks in, ready to get this job done. There's no need to panic, the cows always come home. It's just a matter of how long it takes and how much running is going to be involved.

A group of heifers across the road at my parent's farm.

The first thing we do when the cows are out is assess which group of cows are out (are they the milking herd, the dry cows, or the little heifers), how many of them, and where they are headed. Cows barreling down the road are triaged first. The ones milling outside the barn or in a nearby pasture can wait. This particular night I can't remember exactly what the situation was, but I almost think it was the dry cows (cows in the holding pen who are about to calve) who somehow messed with the latch on the gate enough until it gave way. Dad called out orders to us girls and we all worked together to round up the cows who were wide-eyed and feeling frisky knowing they were being naughty. Because I was young and quick, my job was always to run around the dry-cow barn and head-off whoever was running the wrong way on the other side of the building. The trick is to head them toward narrower and narrower spaces until you can finally get them back into the barn or barnyard where they came from.

Chasing cows down Pleasant Street back toward the farm right before heading to a graduation. Farm sign in far background. June 2009.

I have two other stories about chasing cows that stick out to me from when I was growing up. The first was a doozy. One evening during the peak of the growing season, probably late July, the hired worker who was milking that night forgot to open the gate to the barnyard when letting out the cows to pasture for the evening. We've all done it, but this time was definitely the most memorable. The entire herd somehow made it out of the barn before anyone realized the gate wasn't open and across the road into a field of tall, lush alfalfa. They did NOT want to move, and it was getting dark. And it was the WHOLE herd, as in 50 cows. I remember that one taking us a looong time and dad having to pull out his entire bag of tricks, but thankfully there were a lot of people around to help. Somehow we got them into the correct pasture.

Then was the time I had just put on nice clothes, complete with fancy silk shirt, to go to a cousin's graduation with the family when I heard shouting outside. Some dry cows had broke loose and for some reason ran straight down the road into a corn field, about a half-mile from the farm. A neighbor saw them running by and came out to help us round them up and run them back up the road. We just barely made it to the graduation. I thought about changing my shirt before we left, but I think I just let the sweat dry. I didn't smell too bad. :)

Me and my husband's cows contentedly grazing on a spring evening.

Finally, here's a fun story about me and my husband's cows getting out at our place recently. We had just got a new cow from my parent's farm and introduced her to our two Jersey's. They of course immediately started pushing each other around, trying to figure out the new pecking order. This went on until milking time, but after a while they seemed to settle down. A few hours later my husband and I are cozily settled on the couch for the evening when we hear a low moo outside. The cows don't reside that close to the house, so we immediately knew something was up. My husband flicked on the front lights and there was Blue girl looking into the living room window. Based on what we found in the barnyard and hoof prints they left in the snow, it looked like they were still figuring out who was boss and busted through the barnyard fence. Then they came right up to the house. Blue went straight to the window that had a light on to let us know they were out. Good girl!

We are at the start of a new grazing season, so I'm sure more stories lay ahead. Growing up and even with our own cows now we don't chase cows too often, but it definitely is something to be expected when you have animals. Plus it makes for a good story. While it is an inconvenience most of the time it is part of the beauty that makes up farm life and I wouldn't have it any other way.

Stay tuned for more farm stories throughout this summer!

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