Sunday, September 20, 2009

Lost and Found

We were at the intersection of Campbell and Pecatonica roads, in the corner of our neighbors' beanfield, and had lost the trail. The cattle had run into the road, that much we knew, but to where?

We drove down Campbell Road to a beautiful farmstead where some cattle of ours had "visited" before, in the late 1980's. (I remember helping my Dad round them up and watching him mutter and curse under his breath. I also remember that while he seemed mad, he also seemed like he was thoroughly enjoying himself.) We pulled in and asked an older gentleman and what looked to be his daughter if they'd seen 4 white steers come by. The daughter told us that no, they hadn't seen anything but that they'd keep their eyes out for them. We drove away disappointed and returned to our neighbor's beanfield. Again.

At this point, Marcel was very diligently trying to find more cow tracks (oh, how I wish I were talking about ice-cream) while I was quickly losing patience with the slow pace of the cattle-sleuthing. You see, I can sometimes be an impatient person. I can also sometimes downplay my personality faults. But honestly, while Marcel was going all Sherlock Holmes on me, I was in the pick-up truck worrying about cow-car accidents while trying to keep the 3 kids from strangling each other in the back seat.

We decided to split up. That way he could continue dusting for hoof-prints and rubbing his chin thoughtfully, and I could drive around like a madwoman in the pickup truck and trespass on other people's farms. All in all, another win-win situation.

It was at this point that I called my sister Laura. She's always first on my list of who to call when there's trouble on the farm. Ahem.

Could she be oh-so-helpful and get Madelina to her birthday party? 'Cause we're, like, a little busy trying to find our cows that escaped. Laura was the first of many to exclaim "The whole herd?", referring to our herd of 42 grassfed cattle of varying ages, sizes and maturity levels. Thankfully, no. They were still happy as clams (what does that mean?) in their pasture.

As usual, Laura came through for me. Not only did she get Madelina to her party so I only had 2 kids wrestling in the backseat, but she joined the search party afterwards. Marcel was CSI-ing it in the beans, I was trespassing on area farms, and Laura was driving her van around the local roads, stopping in and asking anyone who was outside if they'd seen some cows. We had all inadvertently fallen back on our personal strengths: Marcel was being diligent; I was multi-tasking behind the wheel; Laura was talking.

And the talking saved the day. Saved the day, I tell you. Laura stopped in at a Buffalo farm (yes, you read that right) and the owners told her that no, they hadn't seen the cows, but their neighbors down the road had! Laura called me just as I had pulled into my driveway in defeat. She told me she had a lead: there had been a sighting and I should meet her at such and such farm on Campbell Road. According to the buffalo farmers, these people had seen the cows.

Wait a minute! That is the same farm where I had stopped 4 hours ago and they said they hadn't seen them. What is going on? I drove over anyways, met Laura there, and once again the nice lady told us they hadn't seen anything. At which point our hearts sank. We had been so hopeful, so excited to at least have a small lead. But then, this time, the nice lady said, "Feel free to drive down the lane and check around if you'd like."

By this time Marcel had arrived (cow-sighting-news travels fast), everyone hopped into the pick-up and off we drove down the nice lady's farm lane. The lane was long, and it divided a large pasture with trees and some dairy cattle on the left from a very large cornfield on the right. AS we drove on, we got to the bottom of a long hill and into the middle of another soybean field where the lane basically joined up with a long waterway running through the middle. There was a pretty cottonwood tree in the waterway and a gentle creek flowing through.

One forgets how pretty it is here in Irish Grove until you drive down a lane into the center of a farm. You're away from the road and houses and there's a quiet peacefulness that fills your soul. The gentle rolling hills, the contrast between soybeans, corn and pasture, a small herd of cattle dotting the landscape: the pastoral beauty leaves you absolutely speechless.

Laura and I were admiring how pretty it was back there while Marcel jumped out and started poking around. Soon he found an area of long grass that had been flattened by something. And wait, a cow pie! Hail Holy Mary, he found a cow pie! Poop had never been so well received as in that moment.

By this time, we had all jumped out and were poking around. "Yep, looks like they've been here awhile. They bedded down here, and there's a trail leading this way...and over there. And look, there it goes that way..." And then, all of a sudden, there they were. It was 5:00 PM and we had been searching for 8 hours. But we found them: four stupid white Charolais steers bedded down in a waterway in the middle of a farmer's beanfield.

To be continued.....

Friday, September 18, 2009


It was Thurday, and Farmer Stewart received a phone call from Farmer Tom. Tom told Stewart that his hired hand was doing some mowing on the Palmer farm--a dairy farm that butts up to the back of Stewart's land--when he saw four white cows bedded down in Stewart's waterway.

This didn't seem too hard to believe, especially since Stewart rented one of his own pastures to Mr. Palmer for some dry Holstein cows and a bull. But Stewart was busy tending to his other farm in another town, and so was unable to run down and see for himself. Instead he called Mr. Palmer up, told him his cattle had gotten out, and to go gather 'em up again.

Now being a farmer--a mighty poor farmer as is now painfully obvious--I know that these calls are the ones you dread the most. "Ah, sh*t!" is usually my own personal response, but I'm sure Mr. Palmer (whom I don't know) is much more civilized than I; he probably just shook his head a little.

I'm also pretty sure it didn't take Mr. Palmer long to get down to the pasture to check out the situation--a cattle escape is something you attend to NOW. But funny thing is, Mr. Palmer's cattle were lazing around nice and happy under a few trees in a pasture corner. He counted them: one, two.......yep, they're all here. And then, get this! Then, as the responsible, non-sucky farmer that he is, he also walked the perimeter of the pasture and checked his fence.

He checked his fence? My, what a novel idea!

And by golly, his fence was fine! Sure it was a little bogged down by weeds in a few places, but that trusty electric fenceline he had put around the inside was working like a charm. Mr. Palmer cows won't be trampling another farmer's crops anytime soon.

So then something happened that was bound to happen. You see, there's this well-kept secret that only those of us foolish enough to call ourselves farmers know about. It's the bread and butter of a farmer's day to day existence. It's better than coming home to a home-cooked meal, better than growing a record-setting corn crop, yes, even better than toodling around in your brand new souped-up gazillion-horsepower tractor.

Farmers just absolutely love to humiliate other farmers when they make a mistake.
And seeing four white "ghost cattle" in a waterway is one of those mistakes that no one makes.

And so the jokes began. Farmer Tom's poor hired hand was teased to no end about seeing "ghost cattle", about not knowing the difference between a deer and a cow, about how there might be one albino deer in the area, but four?? Etc. Etc. Etc.

Yes, I'm sure that poor hired hand was the laughingstalk of the coffeeshop. And I'm also sure he'll quite possibly never report a rogue cow ever, ever again.

The Escape

It was Saturday, and we had plans. Over scrambled eggs, the girls and I had decided I would take Ana (and Armando) shopping that afternoon after dropping Madelina off at a birthday party. It was a good plan, a win-win: I had the whole morning to get some jobs done around the farm, Madelina could hang with her buddies, and Ana could "you know, like maybe go shop around Kohl's or JCPenney's; you know, do girl stuff." (Insert lots of hair fluffing and hand waving, Lord help me.)

Ana was so excited about our plan that she ran upstairs to put on mascara. I don't let her wear makeup on a regular basis but try not to make a big deal of it when she does; my theory is the more we freak out about stuff, the more the kids want to do it. Wrong or right, it's my theory. And anyways, have you ever seen pictures of me in high school? Holy cake-face.

I digress.

It was beautiful outside, so I decided to sweep the sidewalks and garage. Marcel had already finished probably 15 major projects by now--he's a total overachiever like that--and was impressed by my surprising show of Saturday morning ambition. We were chatting as I swept, and he mentioned that the cattle hadn't eaten the grain he had given them the night before. Had I seen them yesterday morning when I fed them?

**Insert note here: We are feeding grain to 4 Charolais steers that are not a part of our grassfed beef herd.**

"Well, no, actually. They weren't in the barnyard when I fed them. You don't think they could've gotten out do you?"

Marcel replied calmly, "Nah. I'll go check on them down in the pasture."

It is at this point that I'd like you to understand how the pasture that connects to our barnyard is at the end of a very long lane. It isn't uncommon for us to go a day or two without seeing the cattle. What is strange, however, is that they hadn't eaten their feed. Ground corn and oats is to a cow what a Snicker bar is to a teenager, if you know what I mean. It might give them pimples or a muffin top, but they're not gonna pass it up.

It took all of 25 seconds for Marcel to see that they were gone and had pushed through the fence down by the sweet corn: the electric fence had obviously not been working. A situation like this makes a farmer like me go "Doh" and slap my forehead. If you have livestock you absolutely must have a working electric fence. You see, cows are an awful lot like rich people's kids. Sure they have their every need and want fulfilled by their over-indulgent parents, but that only fuels their desire to break free from their suffocating life of priveledge to experience freedom, danger, a walk on the wild side, man.

I'd better stop with the lame metaphors before I cause y'all some stomach illness.

We grabbed the kids and set off on a long day of looking for the cows. We started the search by walking our cornfield, stop #1 on the cow's Freedom Tour. We found their trail and our hearts sank when the trail crossed a section of downed fencing into the neighbor's soybean field. Cursing ensued.

We drove over to the farmer's house and asked them if they'd seen 4 white cows. "Nope, but feel free to walk the farm," which we proceeded to do, to no avail. We did find the cow tracks around the whole perimeter, though....the cows had made a complete circle around the field. What the...???? Maybe they had returned to our cornfield??

They hadn't, but we did. We even saddled up a horse to help us cover ground as we, once again, searched for cows in our 60 acre cornfield. We saw no new signs of them, however, so we went back to the neighbor's field and re-followed the tracks. Sure enough, we found a spot where it looks like they ran out into the road. A very busy road. Oh Lord help us, someone could've been killed had they driven into a cow.

Unfortunately this is where the trail went dead. There was no cow poop, no tracks, no nothing to be found in any direction. It was noon, we had been searching for 3 hours, and we had lost the trail.

To be continued.......

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Break Out

We're starting day two, yes DAY TWO, of a first class, bona fide Irish-Grove cattle round up.

No, this is not the open rangelands of the West. But our 4 Charolais cattle think it is. They've found themselves a nice new home in the midst of a neighbor's bean field. Did I mention the bean field is a mile away and across a very busy road? Or the fact that we didn't know these people before yesterday? Yes, it's a tricky situation. One that has been much alleviated by the complete graciousness of the farm owners. I'll fill you in on the whole sordid story once we get these buggers caught.

We're off. Wish us luck......