We used to have cows here at Blackberry Run Homestead. That was about 20 years ago. I love cows, but will never raise them again. We started our herd with two Hereford heifers and a borrowed Limousin bull. Off and running with some very nice calves the following year. A short while later though, we sold mommas and youngsters and took a short break from cattle.
My cattleman friend, who lent me the bull to breed my Herefords, had a nice herd of about 80 head of Limousin. I often helped work those animals. Getting them corralled to be dehorned. Catching stubborn young mothers so we could get the new calves to nurse. Feeding when they were out of town. Answering calls in the middle of the night to help with a sick animal. I was familiar with Limousin.
So it was a surprise, even to myself, when I bought four heifers to start another herd. I knew how wild and high strung Limousin were, but I thought it would be fine. Famous last words of the young and inexperienced. Four cows and another borrowed bull later I was back in the cattle business.
Limousin are large, handsome animals that produce really nice calves (what cow doesn't?). The birthing season was very productive the second year and I found myself with a few too many animals. It was time to gather some up and take them to auction.
After several days of trying to corral the herd alone, I called my cattleman friend and asked him to come over and help. The herd was skittish because of my chasing them around so we walked slowly out to the pasture where they were grazing and they immediately went on alert. As we tried to get them pointed in the right direction, back to the barn, they naturally went the other way.
Realizing we were not going to accomplish our goal. I called off the attempt. My friend had about 30 years more experience with cattle than I did and wanted to continue. Saying those soon to be infamous words,"they'll be fine" he kept approaching them with me on his heels saying, "we better stop, they're too nervous". As the cows ran over to the high-tensile fence, I begged him to stop. He would have none of it. He went after the cattle and the cattle went over the fence. They were loose and running away from the pasture and toward the road.
I ran back to the house, jumped in my car and sped up to the road past a few houses just as the cows were approaching. I slammed the car onto the grass right in front of them forcing them to turn and run back. Thinking I had stopped the escape, I drove home to find my friend standing at a closed pasture gate on the corner of my property. I got out and asked where the cattle were. He looked at me calmly, pointed and said they ran off. What he said next almost made me a felon. He stated "they came back to the gate but I didn't know if I should open it or not". The cattleman with over 30 years experience didn't know whether he should have let the escaped cattle back into their pasture. I guess he thought it was better they run off into the woods and disappear, which is exactly what happened.
After some heated cursing I got back in the car and drove a several mile loop around my place, keeping close to the woods where I knew the cattle had gone. I actually did see them over a mile from the homestead, casually walking down the drive of a million dollar estate. Fortunately their electric gate was open and I ran after the cows and chased them back into the forest. The owner of this place was a lottery winner and I imagined his surprise when he found several pounds of fresh, steeping cow paddies on his pristine golf course like lawn.
My wife and I spent the next week in a constant panic over the whereabouts of these animals. Three cows, five calves and a bull lost, scared and in a panic themselves. Everyday before and after work, we would drive around to try to keep them in the woods and off of the roads. I ranged the woods until dark hoping to keep them close to my farm. We worried what might happen if one of them stepped in front of some poor hapless family on the road or the nearby highway.
I asked everybody in the area to keep a lookout and to contact me if they saw the herd. Fortunately, a neighboring dairy farmer had a cornfield very close by and the cattle availed themselves of it. That kept them close to home. My dairyman neighbor was a huge help in that he not only refused my offers to pay for the damaged corn, he lent me a young calf to put into the pasture. The idea being the calf would cry for its mother and the cows would come to see what was going on. That part worked. The calf cried and the herd came charging, but only as far as my neighbor's place. They refused to go anywhere near the pasture fence.
I heard about a cowboy in the area who specialized in catching lost cattle and engaged him to come and help. He was very entertaining , but of no real support. He rode through the woods and never saw a thing, but he did recommend cutting several openings in the fence to make it easier for the cows and bull to come back in. I did this immediately and rigged the fence wire so it could be secured once the herd was back, if they came back.
As the week wore on and my mood became more desperate, I contemplated all sorts of final solutions to my problem. I contacted Animal Control who admonished me to keep them off of the road, but offered no other support or advice. I finally started putting feed out for them at my neighbor's place. When I moved away the herd would come out of the woods to eat, look at me and mosey back into the woods. Because I was herding them everyday in the woods to keep them close they were skittish of my presence.
On about the seventh day of this insanity, we got a call from our neighbor Pat very early in the morning. It was pouring rain, a real cloudburst and she told us the cows were back in the pasture. We ran to look and sure enough they were near the corral, but not in it. I had to close the fence openings and they were located all around the pasture fence. If the cows got away again I was going to have to implement one of my final solutions.
I walked out and when they saw me they turned to run. I hit the ground and backed away quickly. Dressed in our work clothes, I sent my wife in one direction and I went in the other in a long wide arc so the cattle wouldn't see me. In the pouring rain we managed to close up the dozen or so fence openings. My wife was the only person who could go into the barn to feed for the next week. If I got anywhere near the cattle they would try to bolt.
A few days later, when the herd was in the barn, I parked my tractor in front of one of the corral gates and my pickup truck in front of the other gate. The cows were penned in the barn and corral and could not get loose. I could finally relax somewhat. However, I knew I would never be able to contain these animals again once they knew they could get out and were familiar with the territory. They had to go.
I scheduled a local livestock hauler to gather the whole lot and take them to auction. We carefully loaded them onto his trailer and off they went. Never would I bring another bovine to the homestead.
This little experience caused me quite a lot of angst. I worried constantly over the consequences if any of those cows or bull did any real property damage or caused injury or worse to some innocent person. I seriously considered getting out of the homesteading racket, but I still had goats, chickens and rabbits to care for.
Luckily, I calmed down and the never-ending support of my much better half helped me realize how much I loved the homesteading lifestyle. Sure I was known locally as the nut whose cows got loose for several years after and the person who played a significant part in that mess never once mentioned it, but I learned I had a great neighbor in the dairyman across the road. That's what I focused on.
Also, I discovered that Karma is a real thing. Several years before, on my daughter's birthday, we woke to find nine Jersey cows (the same number of animals I had on the loose) out on the front lawn. I had the Herefords back then and the lost Jerseys were hanging out at the gate with mine chewing the cud. My daughter thought it was a surprise birthday present and was slightly disappointed to find they were not.
It took a few calls to find the owner of the cows. They belonged to my dairyman neighbor across the road. He came over with his trailer to collect them and nervously asked how much he owed me. I laughed and told him his cows had made my daughter's birthday, he owed me nothing and we shook hands.
The worst week of my homesteading life is now long behind me, but I will never forget what I went through. I reflect on that period whenever I am installing new fencing around the property. Good fencing makes good neighbors as the old saying goes. I've found that farming and homesteading can also make good neighbors and good friends.