Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Who's Your Momma?

I didn't hear the phone ring as I settled into the computer for a brief conversation with family and friends to recover from several hours of gardening. Morris called out to me from the corridor, "David needs me."

I start scrambling for my shoes because if David needs Morris, then he probably also needs me. As David once said: "two people is more than twice as good" when moving cattle. Two people, like two points, can determine a line. Cattle apparently understand geometry better than I ever did.

As we head for the field, Morris fills me in. There are two cows--one recently calved; one just calved right now. They need to be separated from the other expectant mothers in the field and from each other "and the blue one is wild." A cow recently calved will do the most bizarre things. I have seen a cow charge a front loader or a 4-wheel bike, and I have been on the receiving end of a mother's wrath. I pay careful attention to the words and to their import.

The other information comes on an as needed basis. They were mothering up to the wrong calves. Blue cow, in her agitated state, was trying to "pinch" the other cow's calf. Orphaned calves are a problem and mommas missing their babies are a problem, so it is important to get them sorted out fast.

The first cow and calf have been separated from the herd and are making their way into the paddock as Morris and I get there. We move her into the next paddock with minimal effort. "I'm betting that was the easy one, David." His response suggests we have a hard job on our hands and he repeats, "Don't go near that blue cow. She is wild," as he jumps on the four wheeler to get mother and calf into the paddock.

He drives up to mother and calf and lifts the calf onto the bike and whisks calf into the paddock. Mother follows for a few steps and it looks as if the task will be accomplished relatively smoothly. For no apparent reason, the wild blue cow stops mid stride and stands looking baffled. Morris and David both try imitating the sound of the calf to encourage the mother to follow. Instead she turns and breaks for the far end of the field and the safety of the herd.

David takes off on the bike and tries to turn her back to the gate and her calf, but the field is large and she avoids being caught between the bike and the dyke. She keeps moving to the open field. David and I are so far apart that the geometry of the line is lost. My mind bounces back to the evening my brother tried to show me how to check mate my opponent with two rooks. Column and row. I move up the field hoping to be the other rook to David on the bike but this is a giant chess board.

Cattle, being social animals, join together and begin running across the top of the field. The wild blue cow has sought solace or safety with the others. It is easier to move several cattle because they will clump together, so David moves adroitly among the pack of heavily pregnant cows to move them all down the field. Blue cow slides through the gate with four others; two more linger on the far side of the gate. I get to the side of the gate with blue cow and Morris and David. When blue cow sees her calf, she forgets the company of the other cows. The other cows, now that the chase is over, are easily moved back into the field. The gate is closed, blue cow gets down to the important job of licking her calf dry, and we can all head home.


At 12:36 PM, Anonymous amPiggy said...

I am struck by your intimate knowledge of bovine psychology both adult and infant (gleaned from observation, intuition, Morris, and David, I would imagine). I'm envious! I wish we knew as much about our cats as you do about your calves and cows. Maybe we do, after all.

At 12:42 PM, Blogger landgirl said...

Well, blue coo and her friend outsmarted us all. When I looked out this morning, they had managed to open up two gates and get back together. Without prehensile thumbs, that is quite an e
I am trying to discover the secret lives of my farm cats, but I see them only occasionally so I am forced to speculate.

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