Monday, June 05, 2006

Escape from Box Canyon

When the bull led the cows into the box canyon, I sighed with relief because that was going to make sorting the cattle so much easier. I have never seen a box canyon but many Saturday mornings in the balcony of a movie theatre seemed to involve box canyons--desperados disappeared through a tiny opening into their hideaway, naive cavalry were lured to their doom in box canyons; and more benignly, they were used to keep cattle safe during a cattle drive. In this case, the tiny paddock was as good as a box canyon.

Two of the expectant mothers need to be in the paddock where we can keep a close eye on them. One is just ready to calve; the other one is not quite right. It may be just a slow labor or it may be a dead calf or some unpleasant variation. At any rate, we will watch over her and do what we can. All the cattle in the box canyon get a bit restless so Morris can fairly easily move out all but the two we want to keep there.

Once out of the paddock, the cattle--one bull, one little bullock, and six cows yet to calve--amble easily down the little field that doubles as a nursery. They move through the open gate they just came through with only a moment's hesitation and then one of the cows leads the way across the little field and back into the field from which they have just come. I have to make a little noise to get the bull's massive hindquarters moved far enough into the field to close the gate, but it all seems to have gone smoothly enough.

Morris and I turn back toward the paddock/box canyon. He wants to take a closer look at the two cows. They are both restless now and, apart from the herd, they find the box canyon confining. Morris signals for me to go to the other gate. I walk steadily but not too fast. I see the one cow sidle to the edge of the paddock that is no more than flagstones with two thin lines of barbed wire over it and a hedge behind it. She sees through the hedge into open territory. Like the Saturday matinee desperados, she has found a way out of the canyon. I can see her muscles coiling just beneath the surface of her skin and I know that she is going to jump and there is not a thing I can do about it.

Before the words are out of my mouth, she is over. Morris, of course, knew better than I did that she was jumping but he may have been a bit surprised when her companion followed her. The first desperado jumped again. Her first leap landed her in the front garden; her second leap took her back into a field. Now it is the two of us with one, restless desperate cow in the front yard.

I stand in the farm road between a tractor and a car. We have not had time to properly close off the road as we would have done if we had expected cow company. I need to look as much like a sturdy fence as I can. Oddly enough, Bottom the Weaver and their play come to mind. I have a new appreciation for the character who had to play a wall. It is not as easy as it sounds.

The cow comes out of the front yard and turns toward me. I wave my arms and shift left into the empty space large enough for a cow to pass through. She shifts right and keeps coming. I move as boldly as I can and she decides to head for the open space--the barn. After a brief but successful performance as Wall, I am on the move again. She is looking right, so I come along on her left. I hear her climb the little stone ramp and I am relieved that the wooden door is closed. She turns and ambles back. Her desperation seems dissipated. She passes by the mountain of barley in the corner and moves slowly back toward the barn door. I see Morris coming and shout to him that she is coming, so he moves just out of her view behind the door. When she emerges, he is able to turn her easily and get her back through the gate into the paddock, which, with gates opened, is no longer a box canyon. She moves easily through the gates and into the larger field and rejoins her companion.

And then it feels as if I breathe again for the first time in ages. "When I see a cow is going to jump, what should I do?" I ask for an ad hoc lessons learned session. "Turn your back and walk away. Smartly." I tuck that away into my cattle lore for the next adventure. After all those Saturday mornings I should have remembered that it was nearly always a woman who found a way out. As I look at the hoof prints in the front yard, that reminds me of another lesson for cattle and for people. As my mother always said, "Never underestimate the power of a woman."


At 2:51 AM, Anonymous molly gunason said...

reminded me of a poem Mother wrote, about how quite it is in the country. About my yellow mare getting out and going to the park to see what was happening. I came in and walked across the road and brought her back, no fuss just normal.

At 12:25 PM, Anonymous ampiggy said...

Another whew!

At 2:20 PM, Blogger landgirl said...

To Molly--curiosity is not unique to humans as you know. Today we had a road full of cattle. They were just curious and so they had worked at the gate until it opened. They were fairly easily persuaded into the next field over with lots of lovely green grass.

At 2:22 PM, Blogger landgirl said...

Re another whew.
That was just the beginning. She calved in the field but the calf was not right so we had to bring them in. It was such a struggle and now I am recovering from the scariest time ever. I am too scared still just now to write about it. Don't worry! By the time you get here, all the calves will be born and frisking aorund the fields.


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