The Cow Whisperer

KDBarnThis morning I ran across an advertisement for a clinic on “Low Stress Cattle Handling”. Hallelujah! Why didn’t somebody think of this before? I want to enroll our entire herd, especially the yearlings. We moved them a hundred yards last weekend and they managed to tear down the fence in two places, so in addition to high blood pressure I have a smashed thumb from pounding fencing staples.

I assume the instructor of this class is a cow whisperer, uses hypnosis or some such technique. Otherwise, how does he get a cow to care how much stress she’s inflicting on me? I’ve always been of the opinion that they delight in causing heartburn.

We thought we could win ours over by pampering them, bucket feeding our heifers through their first winter. And it worked! They settled right down. So docile, in fact, that moving them was nearly impossible. They just stood there looking at us with their “Where’s the grain?” faces. Ramming them with the four wheeler was satisfying but not particularly efficient, so we got a dog. Now the cows really move. The faster the better, in Max’s opinion. And we’re back to square one.

It’s still an improvement over the eighties and nineties, when everybody went through the exotic breed stage. Limousin, Gelbvieh, Saler…tall, big-framed cows that produced hefty calves, but had the temperament and athletic ability of an irritated mule deer. Talk about inflicting stress. Those cows could wreck anything, including your nerves, your corrals and a sizeable number of marriages.

One day, when we were still living in South Dakota, my brother-in-law called. “That red cow got out again. Could you bring a horse over and help me get her in?” My husband asked if I’d come along since my horse needed the exercise. In retrospect, it would’ve been wise to ask a few pertinent questions, but I was a new wife and still gullible so I said, ‘Sure’.

The cow, a big red Gelbvieh, spotted us from afar when we pulled into the driveway. By the time we got the horses unloaded she’d cleared three fences without touching a wire and was moving south at a fast clip. It would’ve been easier if we could have followed where she went, but I hadn’t got around to training my horse to jump barbed wire fences. Every time the cow hopped into another pasture, we had to detour half a mile to the nearest gate to catch up with her again. This went on for most of the afternoon. Finally, she began to tire. We could tell because she started tearing down the top couple of wires instead of jumping them clear.

We eventually got her turned around and headed back toward the barn. She demolished one last wire gate for the fun of it, then ran up the wood-railed lane, bounced off the end, made a left and tried to jump a five foot tall steel stock panel, which is now permanently U-shaped. She teetered on top for a moment, then went end over end into the corral. It must’ve stunned her when she landed on her head because she staggered around the corner and into the lean-to beside the barn, right where we wanted her.

We slammed the gate, then stood well back as she tried to wedge her body through the foot-wide gap between the top of the fence and the roof. My brother-in-law backed his stock trailer up to the gate and threw open the rear door, afraid she might tear down the whole barn. Lured by the possibility of an escape route, the cow jumped in. He slammed the door behind her and barely got it latched before she realized her error, spun around and tried to bust her way out. We eyed the bouncing, rocking stock trailer and pondered the logistics of ‘what next’?

“You gonna haul her back to the pasture?” my husband asked.

“Oh, hell, no,” my brother-in-law declared. “I don’t care if she raises the biggest calf in the herd. I’ll poke hay and water into the trailer until the sale in Aberdeen on Wednesday, then she’s outta here.”

Too bad that was back in the unenlightened days. Would’ve been fun to take her to one of those cow whisperers instead, to see what he could do.