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Tuesday, December 22 2015

The buzzard slowly riding the wind over the creek cast a shadow on the ground as he passed above me. When you're missing a cow you look for these things, so the damned bird cast a shadow on my mood as he glided by.

When she didn't come in to eat the night before it was time to get worried. While Other Half doesn't trouble himself to name the cattle, I name the ones that stand out. I called this girl Secretariat because she is a racehorse at dinner time. When that cow gets called for supper, the Chariots Of Fire theme song plays in the background. Girlfriend doesn't miss a meal, so when she didn't come in, something was wrong. We started counted down the days since she'd been bred and realized we were late locking her in the pens near the house. She was now somewhere, in a forest thick with coyotes, trying to have a Charolais calf by herself.

Cows often wander off to give birth, but we like to keep everyone confined so we can monitor them. We haven't had to pull a calf since we started breeding to Angus bulls, but this little girl was from a group of heifers that had been bred to a nice young Charolais in South Texas when our Angus bull was in North Texas. I had some serious concerns about breeding first time mothers to a breed of bull noted for throwing big calves, but Other Half didn't share my worries until he was walking through  the forest with a flashlight hoping to find his cow before the coyotes did.

Two hours of driving and walking in the dark proved fruitless. The next morning she still didn't come up. We decided she was either dead, had a calf, or both. By noon she dragged in for breakfast, looking like a gutted snowbird. Since she is normally fat and healthy, there was no doubt that she'd had a calf. Whether the calf was alive or not was another matter entirely.

While she ate, Other Half and I formulated a plan. In hindsight, we might have put more time into our plan. Since you could hide an elephant out here and not find it, our chances of tumbling over a newborn calf were slim and none.  Our only hope was to follow the cow back to her calf. If the calf was dead, then so be it. It was a major financial loss, but at least the cow was still alive. On the other hand, if the calf was alive, and just hidden, waiting for his mother to return, he probably wouldn't survive the night alone with a first time mother. Coyotes are bad this year. We've already lost one calf, and the neighbor has lost four lambs.

I glanced at the time. We had guests coming for Christmas. The house was still a mess, and I had not put up one single Christmas decoration yet. It's been busy. We hadn't even bought a tree. Since we are surrounded by trees, the plan had been to find a likely candidate and bring a fresh tree in the house. We just hadn't found the time to do that yet. So I stood in a pile of cow shit, texting a friend to explain why her family would arrive tomorrow to a house filled with sand and dog hair. She sent this text:

"Is your tree up?"

God bless her. She knows me well. And loves me anyway. The plan had been to have a nice country Christmas for her son. Instead I was watching a cow watch me while I texted. We decided we could salvage Christmas by letting son and father tromp out in the forest and pick out their own tree. Can't get more Country than that!

The cow finished her cubes, let out a loud bawl, and slowly began to amble toward the pond. The game's afoot! I texted Other Half who had positioned himself on a 4Wheeler near the direction she had come from earlier. The plan was to keep a loose tail on her and thus allow the cow to lead us to her calf. We failed to consider anything past that, leaving us woefully unprepared for the rest of the afternoon.

Secretariat stopped at the pond for a drink, then she bawled again and headed off into the forest. I texted Other Half our direction of travel. Cell phone reception is spotty and since two reasonably intelligent people failed to get the walkie talkies while the cow was eating, I was stuck trying to avoid briars, branches and snakes while texting like a teenager at the mall.

Over my career in police work, I spent my share of time working with narcotics, and I'm one to give credit where credit is due. I've tailed drug dealers less wily than this cow. I gave that quite a bit of thought as I trailed the first time mother through the tangled mess of briars and cedars. The day was just warm enough to coax out the copperheads and so once again, I thanked God and Chippewa for snake boots as I trudged through the forest bed of thick leaves. I quickly gave up texting our direction. Just keeping an eye on a full size cow moving like a wisp of smoke through the trees was enough to keep me busy. It took an embarrassingly short amount of time to lose me.

Well, the upside was that I could text my direction again as I tracked her footprints. The downside was that the only thing worse than Other Half's hearing is his sense of direction. As I hiked through the forest, passing many Christmas tree Candidates, I tallied up the cost of another lost calf. I emerged from the forest onto the road by the creek where I met Other Half. Despite the fact that fresh tracks went through here, he confirmed that he didn't see a large black Ninja cow pass. My guess was that he found cell phone reception and was playing on Facebook while I was trudging through a tick-infested forest.

Since he was on the 4Wheeler, he followed the road to the creek while I followed the cow tracks and entered the forest again. I soon ran out of tracks in the thick leaves.  I was reminded of that damned buzzard again as I headed east through the woods. This was the area where the last calf was killed.

A stick snapped in the forest ahead of me, so I forged on down a game trail. The path ended at the creek, and there standing above where the calf was killed last summer was my Drug Dealer Cow nursing a healthy bull calf. I took a moment to thank God, admire the dappled sun playing across her back, and catch my breath.

I then directed Other Half to our location so he could inspect the new addition to the herd. The calf was a big boned hulky cuss.

Other Half asked, "What are you going to name him?"


I have no idea why. It just popped in my head. Melvin finished his lunch, smacked his lips, and regarded us with a quiet curious look, and that's when the Ninja cow just walked off, taking Melvin with her. Now here's the point where we realized that we had absolutely no clue how we were going to get Melvin back to the house. He was disappearing into the forest at an alarming speed for someone so young. The cow was just walking, Melvin was hiking behind her, and I was left swatting briars and cedar branches again. Very quickly I gave up looking for copperheads. A $1200 calf was walking away and he wouldn't survive the night if I lost him in the woods.

It is at this point I want to pause and share a short note about relationships and marriage. Some couples actually discuss plans. They may have intelligent, meaningful give and take conversations where the views of the other are weighed and measured before a plan is cemented. Other people shout and cuss at each other while each tries to take charge of the situation because one person is clearly wrong, and we wouldn't be in the situation if the other person has just checked his cows like he was supposed to. I'm not gonna tell you what kind of couple we are, but I will say it is never a good idea to walk off into the forest with angry crime scene investigator who can kill you and make it look like a suicide.

So the cow continued through the forest.

And she popped out on the road, and crossed the creek.

And entered the forest again. And little Melvin followed along like a puppy on a string. Other Half got lost on the 4Wheeler while I trailed the cows through the cedar, briars, ticks, copperheads, feral hogs, and a partridge in a pear tree. There was more shouted cussing in the forest and eventually Other Half got off the 4Wheeler and joined me as I tracked Ninja Cow. We'd still be tracking that cow if Melvin hadn't run out of gas - or milk.

My plan had been to catch Melvin, put him on the 4Wheeler, and slow roll our little circus back to the house. I'm not sure what Other Half had planned. It involved a lot of cussing about leaving without walkie talkies, a cowhorse, a Border Collie, or a rope, and I soon lost interest. Plans should involve what we have, not what we don't have. What we had was a long piece of parachute rope, a 4Wheeler with half a tank of gas, a cell phone with 20% battery, and a pissed off wife who should have been cleaning house but was instead chasing cows through the freakin' forest!

The only two useful items from the above list was the rope and the 4Wheeler.

So we gently tackled Melvin and hoped his mother wouldn't stomp us to death.

Fortunately she was one of the cows I had raised at the house so she knew us and although she expressed concern, she didn't try out that insurance policy. There was more cussing about the pros and cons of tying Melvin's legs, how heavy he was, and who was hiking back for the 4Wheeler.

After a ride back that resembled the OJ Simpson slow speed hot pursuit, we finally deposited Melvin in a catch pen behind the house where his relieved mother joined him.

And thus begins the new calving season. Lessons learned: Do not leave the house for any reason without a rope, a gun, a knife, a pair of snake boots, a Border Collie, and a good sense of humor. And if you do, remember this: Prison orange is not your color.

Posted by: forensicfarmgirl AT 07:56 am   |  Permalink   |  4 Comments  |  Email
Oh golly gosh that slow chase reminded me of Mym [1st Pyr] 3 o'clock am on a cold frosty dawn, gum boots, bright pink dressing gown and a fast "disapyring" tail up the road as she headed out on yet another fox hunt and me on a fruitless round up.................electric did finally do the trick
Posted by Liz [Vic Aust on 12/22/2015 - 03:49 PM
Don't forget walkie-talkies. My hubby and I don't do any better. We just have a smaller place.
Posted by Patty on 12/22/2015 - 09:26 PM
Yes, those unplanned excursions often find us ill prepared!
Posted by forensicfarmgirl on 12/24/2015 - 06:09 AM
So yesterday was my birthday and to make sure I started the day right, my 2 calves decided to go on walk about and busted down the fence. They headed straight for the swamp. Fortunately, I have great neighbors who hunt that swamp and know how to get around in there. They tracked my calves and got them out and into their own pasture. When they have had time to settle, we'll do a mini cattle drive and bring them home. What a day!!!
Posted by Patty on 12/24/2015 - 07:40 AM

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