May 09

Cattle bum me out

Yesterday Stingray and a couple of her friends drove out from Austin to help plant the monastrell vines. Happy day in the vineyard! La di da. The vines got planted, the friends got their picturesque day in the country, and everyone took a skinnydip in the swimmin’ hole (except me. No way do I ever voluntarily insert myself into a cold, wet, murky snake habitat). In short, the indifference of the cosmos was having a refreshingly neutral impact on me. Nothing was dreadful. La di da. So naturally, a few minutes after Stingray left with her friends, she called me on my cell phone with really bad news. She said,

“There’s a [scrackle crackle] on your [cackle crackle].”

“There’s a what on my what?”

“[Snap crackle pop] ow [garble bobble] orble.”

Cell phones don’t work out here. Screw you, AT&T.

Eventually I was able to decipher the communique. “There’s a cow on your place” was the gist. Stingray had spotted it up by the front gate, partially obscured in the brush, about a mile from the bunkhouse. I could feel the blood drain from my face.

Let me explain. For excellent reasons pertaining to my rural ineptitude, I don’t have cattle. In fact, I have gone to great trouble and expense erecting fences specifically designed to keep cattle the hell out of here. By my reckoning, there should never be any cow of any kind on my place, ever. Consequently, whenever the words “there’s a cow” and “on your place” are conjoined in a single sentence and addressed to me, it portends very troubling times indeed. I cannot understand why I keep hearing those words, but hear them I do, and with astonishing regularity, despite the expensive fences. It appears that whenever a 2000-lb cow decides to come a-callin’ at Dreadful Acres, there’s shit-all I can do about it.

If you have never had loose cattle running amok in your personal vicinity, consider yourself lucky. Oh sure, they’re cute for a while. But soon your lack of cattle-management infrastructure bites you in the ass. You start to notice that they’re covered in flies, which waste no time in infesting your horses (which horses are, by the way, completely freaked out by cattle, because instead of sturdy ranch horses, you have neurotic Arabians). They leave gross-smelling puddles of wet poop everywhere (right where you want to put your foot), which attract more flies. They trample your wildflowers and eat all your nice grass. They bust up the hay wagon you keep by the back door for your feeding-time convenience. They make you haul out the giant water trough and put it in the middle of your driveway, because ever since you put up the dadgum fences, there’s no more access to the creek.

And then, because your place is boxed in on all sides by about five different cattle ranches, which ranches are themselves accessible to wayward livestock from four or five more ranches, and most of these owners are absentee, good luck figuring out where your strays belong. Fact: during a drought, cattle ranchers are not necessarily gonna be chomping at the bit to get their lost cattle back. You will often find that they are somewhat undermotivated even to notice that the cows are missing, much less to remove them from your free grass. This has happened to me more than once. I once involuntarily hosted a herd of 6 Herefords for an entire spring and summer. By the time I finally tracked down their absentee owner, the herd had grown to ten, owing to a birth rate of 66.6%. Rural friends informed me that I was entitled to keep any calves that had been born on my property. Awesome, I said, pulling my foot out of a fresh pie of cow shit, just what I always wanted. Despite the fact that I had fed and watered and picked up after his dadgum cattle for 4 months, and that he clearly had no plans to offer any compensation for these services (let alone for the property damage), I nevertheless had no problem letting the owner take “my” calves when he finally turned up to claim the cows.

That guy never even said thanks. No good deed, amirite?

Yesterday’s cow was Number 61, according to her ear tag. She had been bellowing for several hours before Stingray spotted her on my property (see YouTube video, above; note calf way off to the right). As I said, we’re surrounded by cattle, so constant mooing in the background is just part of the soundtrack out here, and we hadn’t thought anything of it. I now followed the moos. When I finally found her (you’d be surprised how easy it is for a mammal the size of a propane tank to obscure itself in the scrub), it was obvious that she belonged next door. She was calling to a calf who was just on the other side of the fence. Both parties were pretty upset. I was pretty upset. It was a dreadful tableau.

What made it dreadful, besides the incessant bellowing, was the fact that it was getting dark and I couldn’t figure out how to reunite the pair. The nearest gate between my place and the neighbor’s was nearly a mile away over rough terrain. So, even as the little voice in my wisdom-lobe said “you are undoubtedly going to regret this,” I ended up cutting the wire fence, peeling open a gap, and luring Number 61 through with a bucket of Omolene. Then, summoning my rugged pioneer spirit, I slapped it back together with baling twine and a rusty old T-post by the light of the Gator’s headlamps. Cow and calf together again. Fence sorted. Natural order restored.

I should mention that from Stingray’s announcement to the completion of my fence repair, four hours had elapsed. I’d spent the entire time I plotting and stressing and Gatoring back and forth between the cow and the house, collecting tools and buckets of feed and ropes and whatnot, trying out various idiotic gambits. I was exhausted.

My mission accomplished, I tooled on home in my Gator, feeling pretty pleased with myself. Sure, in the morning I was gonna have to call Travis, the rural expert I keep on retainer who calls me “ma’am” even in text messages, to sheepishly explain what happened so he could fix the fence for real. Sure, it was going to be humiliating, because undoubtedly I had committed yet another hilarious act of greenhornery by getting sentimental about the separation of the cow/calf unit and attempting to address this non-problem by ruining a perfectly decent fence. Sure, Travis would exercise his customary palpable restraint in refraining from overtly ridiculing me. But I didn’t care. I had done the decent, humane thing, and that’s all that mattered. In a year’s time that poor calf would be smoked brisket, but at least I’d been able to facilitate this one happy reunion for him. I hoisted a can of wine in my own honor, watched an episode of “Mr Selfridge” (am I the only one who finds Jeremy Piven inexplicably wooden in that role?) and hit the sack.

This morning I was still basking in the glow of my pastoral triumph. Travis stopped by and said, before I’d had a chance to brief him, “Ma’am, did you know there’s a cow up by your front gate?”

I staggered backward as Travis went on to describe the giant black Angus cow on my property, separated (by “bobwar”) from her calf.

You have got to be kidding me. “Not Number 61?” I choked brokenly.

Well, it sure wasn’t the Queen of England.

Stunned by this infuriating deja-vu-all-over-again turn of events, I related to Travis the events of the previous evening, how I’d reunited this same cow with her calf after great mental, emotional, and physical exertions, and that last I’d seen them, they’d been happy as a couple of clams on the other side of the fence. Travis nodded politely, pretending to listen, and informed me that I shouldn’t have worried about that calf, ma’am, he was old enough to be weaned and would have been just fine without my having ruined the fence. He also told me that a cow can jump 6 feet from a standstill. I couldn’t tell if he was just fucking with me.

I can’t really tell you what happened next, it’s all a blur. All I know is, Number 61 is still on my property, her calf is still on the other side of the fence, my fence patch is still a joke, and I’m out of canned wine.


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  1. ew_nc

    Why are beef cattle so bleedin’ stupid? You’d think life on the open range would teach them some skills.

  2. amy

    I am so glad you started writing again! Your blog is one of the first things I try to read every day.

  3. The Crone of Cottonmouth County

    I cannot speak to the intelligence of beef cattle generally, although I suspect they don’t breed’em for smarts.

    I’d assumed she was my next-door neighbor’s cow, but recently the provenance of Number 61 has been thrown into question for reasons too complicated to get into here. It has emerged that some of the grapevine planters left the front gate open, which would account for her presence here despite no holes in the fence (until I cut one). It remains unclear where she really belongs or how her calf got separated from her in a pasture where he doesn’t belong. Ach. Mystery cattle may seem trivial, but it wears me to a nub. Now I’m off to try to find her and give her a bucket of water, which I doubt she’s had any of in 24 hours. Ach.

  4. Comradde PhysioProffe

    Don’t these fucken cows have their owner’s brand? Hey, what’d you end up deciding to call your fucken wine?

  5. Compcat

    What happens when you report the strays to your local sheriff? By law, in Texas, you can recover damages. But it depends on whether or not the cows belong to someone who is friends with the local sheriff. Official reporting starts the clock on feeding fees(and in the olden days, prevented you from being charged for rustling, I suppose.)

    During the last great drought, my grandparents were able to have the sheriff send cattle to auction to recover damages. (After a summer of fighting a neighbor over cut fences into their hay field.)

    Those same grandparents had a bull that just walked right over barbed wire fences when he felt like it. Stayed on the home place, but you couldn’t keep him out of the section he wanted to be in.

  6. quixote

    I bet that cow is not stupid at all. Sounds like the best grass and hay in the county is at Dreadful Acres. The gate is open for a microsecond (in cow time), and she’s in. Then she’s trying to show her calf where the good stuff is.

    What you need is her equivalent to find the Canned Wine Mountain. (Or, if she’s as smart as I think, the Great Moët & Chandon Mountain.)

  7. The Crone of Cottonmouth County

    The sheriff! One of the ranchers whose cattle hung out here for a month or so, shitting everywhere and trashing my haystack, is the sheriff’s bestie. He turned the sheriff against me when I failed to keep a trio of rogue donkeys off his property. The rogue donkeys weren’t mine — just visiting like the rancher’s own pestilent cattle — and at the time I didn’t have the right kind of fencing to keep them in even if I wanted to, but that didn’t stop the rancher from trash-talking me to the sheriff. So now I’m apparently on the blacklist.

    It’s looking like this is the dude who actually owns Number 61. I can’t wait for our happy reunion. He still owes me for about $500 worth of hay.

    As for the winery name, Stingray is still busting my chops over my every suggestion. She wants to name it after her German grandma, who I think was called “Earwig” or something. Seriously!

  8. Comradde PhysioProffe

    How about Earwig and the Angry Centimeter Winery?

  9. The Crone of Cottonmouth County

    If only.

  10. Cynthia Wright

    I hate the suburbs although having lived here 42% of my long life. Maybe I should reassess my dream of moving to the country. The only problem I thought I would have is getting someone to bush-hog the property and how to fence in my pair of imaginary black lab-mixes. The other dream choice is a loft in downtown where-ever which wouldn’t accommodate the pets I have. May as well stay here and visit friends with lofts and acreage. Sad. Glad you can hang in there and let the rest of us know of your kind deeds.

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