Most good stories about livestock begin with an animal being where it shouldn’t. Since I aim to minimize the frequency with which this happens I suppose one of my goals as a farmer is to be less interesting, but until I have the entire farm surrounded by an overbuilt fence along with a herd of perfectly behaved cattle I won’t be able to achieve it. Through this past summer the cows mostly stayed where they were supposed to, but this past week one got loose.
The steer showed up in the front yard just as I was finishing my morning coffee. Oban alerted me to the cow’s presence by barking with a volume and urgency that said, “I know I usually do this when there’s a pigeon on the driveway or when I hear an especially loud truck on the road, but this time I’m serious.” I shrugged into a sweatshirt and ran outside, by which point the escapee had wandered up to the garden.
Farming is often thought of as drudgery, or at least as overwhelmingly physical, but figuring out how to move a half ton animal in the right direction is almost entirely a matter of strategy and patience. With only a poorly trained (if enthusiastic) dog as a helper, it’s also an opportunity for setting appropriate expectations.
One of the pleasures of work that interacts with the world at large is how objective success and failure is - the cow is either inside or outside of the fence. But this doesn’t mean there isn’t ever room for compromise. After about fifteen minutes of trying to gently cajole the steer back towards the group he’d left for reasons known only to himself, with each effort ended by him balking and racing around me back to the other part of the herd, I decided that getting him on the right side of any fence was more important than making sure it was the one I wanted, so I opened the closest gate and let him trot through.
It’s unlikely systems on the farm will ever operate so smoothly that these minor dramas will cease entirely. There’s enough uncertainty and randomness built into agriculture, especially when it involves animals, that I doubt I will ever account for every possibility. But I do hope to at least build more good fences.