March 14, 2010

The Great Escaping Cow

June 2006

Jeremy's grandpa called on a Saturday and asked "Do you want a calf?"

Grandpa Ed lives about 10 miles away in Ridgefield on 38 acres. He runs about 30 head of cattle. His calves are born in January. Apparently one of the calves was a "bummer", which means the mother wouldn't feed. In this situation, your choices are bottle feeding or veal. This lucky calve got the first option. She grew up in the small "back yard" of Grandpa Ed house, fed by the neighbor girl. When it came time to wean the calf and turn her out to the pasture, she wouldn't go - she just kept coming back to the yard. So Grandpa Ed called us and asked if we could take her.

A single cow needs about 5 acres of good pature with a strong, electric fence. We have 3, 1-acre pastures; only one of which was in good shape that summer. We have wire fences in relative phases of needing to be replaced. And we had, at the time, an electric fence, but the battery was sitting in 2 inches of water and I wasn't sure if the fence had been run in the past 15 years. Are we gonna let all that stop us, no way!

Sunday, Jeremy took the truck, picked up his dad for extra muscle, and headed to Grandpa Ed's. He brought back the cutest little doe-eyed black angus calf. Plus, being raised by a little girl, the calf behaived like a family dog. She was about 50 lbs when they unloaded her to the south pasture and we spent the next few hours feeding her oats out of the palm of our hands. We named her Gladys.

The problem with calves, like all baby farm animals, is that they grow. Quickly. By the next summer we had a 400 lb cow on a one-acre pasture. And then we learned why they say "the grass is always greener on the other side of the fence."

The first time she got out, I came home from the office with Jordan (3 years old) to find Jeremy in his suit and tie helping our neighbor unload Gladys from the truck back into the pasture. Apparently a wire fence with a mild electric charge doesn't pose much of an obstacle to a 400 lb cow intent on our neighbor's garden. I'm guessing, though I never had the guts to test this theory, that our electric fence had a charge that felt like static when you touch a metal door handle. This was also the day we met our neighbors - "Nice to meet you. Sorry our cow ate your peas."

Trying to get a full-grown cow to move, anywhere let alone onto a truck, is nearly impossible. Imagine pushing an SUV, in neutral, but that SUV has the ability to turn itself or hit the brakes. And it's 95 degrees outside.

The second time Gladys got out, we came home to her penned up in the wrong place - by the barn, not in the pasture. Our other neighbor Eric had to retrieve Gladys when she crushed the fence and headed back to "her" garden. I imagine she smooshed the fences much the same way I crush a stack of cardboard waiting to be recycled. It took Eric two hours to get Gladys into the truck.

By this time it was August. The grass that wasn't eatten to the dirt had stopped growing and she was consuming multiple bails of hay a week.

The third time she escaped - thankfully just to Eric's yard - we decided it was time for steak. We called for the "kill truck". After saying our goodbyes, I took Jordan and went shopping - there was no way I could be there when they shot her. Jeremy had to stay and it took a while for him to get over loosing our cow.

I miss the hand-feeding, that she came running to see you at the gate and her big brown eyes with long, long lashed. But the roasts, steak and hamburger are amazingly delicious!

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