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Friday, May 10, 2013

Sometimes the cows never come home...

Last week we had a bit of excitement in our neck of the woods. It all started with a phone call. My youngest, Paulina, called me from her car. “What colour are our cows?” she asked. “Do we have any white ones?”

Now, Paulina doesn’t spend much time with the animals but I’m pretty sure she knows we don’t have any white cows. But she also knows our farm animals like to make a game out of escaping and wandering down the road, so she was right to call us.

“We have some with white faces but no pure white cows, no. Why?”

“Because there’s a bunch of them here standing in the middle of Patterson Corners Road.”

I figured the hobby farmers on the road had some runaways, and I didn’t think much of it. Until the following evening, when the Farmer and I were coming home from town. There was the entire herd of runaway cows, standing in the middle of the field at the end of our road. We turned around and went to the nearest farmhouse, the Finlays’. Ray knew exactly whose cows they were.

“Those are old Doc Hicks’ cows. He keeps them in the field near the Oxford Mills transfer station. He’s been looking for them up and down the roads here for two days.” Suddenly an image flashed in my memory. A sign on that field near the transfer station, stating ‘Keep gate closed. Cows inside.’ The pasture field was often used by remote-control plane enthusiasts. Maybe one of them had forgotten to lock the gate.

In any case, the cows didn’t come home that night, or any night since. They wandered over to the next concession, and settled in a shady meadow. Unlike sheep, they aren’t afraid of the forest. They probably wandered in among the trees and became invisible in the high sun of midday. I’m not sure what they did for water; perhaps they found a drainage ditch to drink from somewhere in their travels.

Friday morning on my way to work I saw the cows again. They were lying in the early morning sun in the same spot as the night before. I took their picture, told them they were bad cows and they should go home before they get hit by a car or shot by the police. They just chewed their cud and blinked at me. I noticed they were huddled close together and thought they looked scared.

Passing by the field they escaped from, I stopped and snapped a photo of the sign. Then I called the number. Carl answered and passed the phone to Doc Hicks, who said he was getting frustrated chasing these cows, and might just shoot them. I know it’s a difficult situation when cows escape, because you don’t want them out on the roads where they might cause a collision. But I didn’t want them to get shot, either. “Well, that would be sad,” I said quietly. To which he replied, “excuse me but who are you, anyway?” I was feeling a little sheepish and less than helpful so I just added my two cents before hanging up.

“Have you tried Dennis Wilson, the drover? He got those bulls off the 416 when they escaped from Eastern Breeders, remember? He’s pretty good with cattle…” Carl assured me that Dennis had been enlisted, and they were going to attempt to lure the cattle onto a truck by baiting them with an old Jersey cow.

Now you see, I knew Dennis would have an idea. Dennis knows the way these animals think. It may take some ingenuity and patience to lure an animal but it’s much more effective than chasing it, in my experience. When our electric fence fails and my animals escape, I bring them home with sweet feed and apples. Works every time.

By Saturday afternoon, Dennis and his Jersey cow had recaptured 9 of the wanderers and sent them to the sale barn. Their owner didn’t want them back. And on Sunday morning, Carl called me to tell me the good news that the final 4 escapees had been caught and were also on their way to being sold.

So the cows have an adventure story to tell their new friends at the sale barn, and no one – human or animal – was hurt in the making of this story. Once again, Dennis the drover saves the day.

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