Sunday, August 12, 2007

Cows, Calves, A Large Bull, and One Stot

I dreamed I was being chased by a large bull. If you are expecting some titilating Freudian interpretation to follow, you are on the wrong blog. In the pre-waking hours, my mind conflated the fact that I was going to be helping to move the cattle that day and that I had heard an animal making a loud noise. The bull often complains about his incarceration, so my dream-mind stitched these together with a dollop of anxiety. In my dream, my grandson, who in reality is safely tucked into his bed in Chicago, comes running through the steading with the bull closely on his heels. I jump on to the running board of the combine to get out of the way.

When I wake, I realize that it is the black cow with her calf alone in the paddock who has been calling. Has her calf gotten out? Is she OK? Morris tries to calm my concerns and then discovers that three calves have managed to get into the barley. The black cow is calling to them. Is she telling them they should not be there? In an instant I am out of bed and pulling on jeans in my best imitation of my favorite Golden Book from many years ago, “Five Little Firemen.” By the time I am downstairs, Morris has already checked out the situation and decided that we wait for reinforcements. The wayward calves will be retrieved as part of the overall shifting of cattle. That means enough time for some oatmeal for a quick breakfast.

My first job is to stand in the corner of the farm road and make sure the cattle turn into the field instead of up the road toward the main road. I stand in the soft air and gracious sunlight. The way the wind is blowing I can hear the shouts of the men trying to move the cattle three fields away as readily as I can hear the barley shushing in the wind. And then a long silence until I hear the sound of the ATV. Something has gone awry and I no longer need to stand in that corner. There are many ways for things to go wrong when moving cattle, but this did not seem to be a serious problem, so I dawdled in my garden and talking with one of my cats until I was summoned again.

Once again I am in a road to ensure that the cattle turn left into an open gate. They do not. They did not come fast or look angry, but they did not stop. I stepped aside and swallowed my tears as they tromped past me. I am most mindful of my limitations as a cattle wrangler. The cattle were quickly retrieved and then corraled, but that was just the beginning. We had to separate stots –steers or young male cattle—from the cows, calves, and heifers. Some confusion ensued with cattle every which way. Somewhere in the midst of this shuffling I notice that among the cattle is a bull. When I am told to get the bunch moving and to be tough, I catch the bull’s eye. He is not liking being told what to do and he has a sore foot, so he does not like moving either. I straighten my back and try to look as if I mean business. Either it worked or he decided he was eager enough to get off his feet that he would go along with me. With that collection of cattle sorted, I am off for another group.

Once more into a road. These cattle turn left and begin filing in with the same closeness as a school of fish. I am ready to heave a sigh of relief and go make coffee when one white stot decides to break away. I wave my arms, I shout, I call him names that reflect on his mother’s character, but he will have none of it. He bellows in his rage and flies past me down the middle road between the fields. His excursion is cut short by fast work on an ATV and he is retrieved and turned into the field. As I watch him trotting to join the others in the far end of the field, I fret about what made him do that, what should I have done, where should I have been standing and so on.

Having gone eyeball to eyeball with a bull, a corral full of cattle, and one very angry stot, however, I put those questions out of my mind for the time being and pull off my Wellies and retire to the kitchen and a familiar recipe for Quick Oatmeal Cookies in my well worn old Joy of Cooking, a relic of my life before cattle.


At 3:51 PM, Blogger Gabriel Harley said...

pull off my Wellies and retire to the kitchen and a familiar recipe for Quick Oatmeal Cookies in my well worn old Joy of Cooking, a relic of my life before cattle.

I can't help but be a little jealous. Although I don't envy the wee-hour chores, sore muscles, and unforgiving workload (just who do cattle think they are for demanding to be fed, milked, etc. every damn day of the year?), I have to admit that there's a lot to be said for a hard morning's work outside, the nurturing and management of living things, and the reflective stillness that sometimes ensues between those things. Like doing yoga or working in an ER, I've often found that outdoor work--especially of the agricultural variety--offers an immediacy and wholeness of mind/body that is often hard to find living and working almost exclusively in one's own head. You must admit, when staring down a 1500-pound bull, it's pretty damn hard to think of anything else... ;-)

At 4:15 AM, Blogger landgirl said...

Yes, I agree, there is that wholeness as you describe. Harriet put her finger on a another aspect that makes it satisfying. Unlike students or pharmaceutical colleagues, she joked, when I helped move cattle, I could clearly see that they had moved.

Meditations with bull is not likely to catch on as much as tai chi or yoga but it definitely requires the same focus. What about music? Does it have a physicality to it as well as the concentration part? I've never made music so I don't know about that.

At 1:56 PM, Blogger Gabriel Harley said...

Meditations with bull is not likely to catch on as much as tai chi or yoga

Unless, of course, one is in Spain at a certain time of year. Otherwise, it's a pretty cost-prohibitive pastime.

What about music? Does it have a physicality to it as well as the concentration part?

Definitely. In the best performances, your body literally takes over for itself and it feels as if someone else is simply playing it for you (or, better yet, playing YOU for itself). It's truly effortless. Of course, the other 95% of the time, you find yourself singing or playing while thinking about the laundry or the mole on the nose of the guy in row 7.

At 2:49 PM, Blogger muddyboots said...

we find that the young heifers are a real pain, because, well they don't know the score. had fun last week with batch heading off into the fields for the first time. two thirds went ok, the rest ran round & round the barn doing hand stands

At 8:09 PM, Anonymous ampiggy said...

I had a bit of holding my breath and butterflies in my stomach as you stood and directed and hoped.

At 11:46 AM, Blogger landgirl said...

Oh I like the idea of music playing itself. When I dance I can ge tthat feeling and I used to get it occasionally when I played tennis.
I also like the idea that music or thinking about cattle or, oin my case lately, thinking of writing or knitting things can hover in the background while you do other stuff.

At 11:47 AM, Blogger landgirl said...

Yup. ampiggy since you have been here and seen it you know what I mean about that instant of will they or won't they. I remember that lorry load where that one animal was looking around the wooden fence and thinking about making a break for it and I stood there and saw him change his mind.

At 11:49 AM, Blogger landgirl said...

Oh, yes, the heifers. They usually mean well enough tho we had one that was quite aggressive, but it is the cows that could run the place. They know where things should be but even they were heifers once and someone had to show them the way.

Are you just putting cattle out now because of the flooding? Or are you putting them in a new field?


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