I never knew before that cows could jump. Not only jump, but jump really, really well. (Where was this cow when I was riding hunter/jumpers?)
One weekend, a few months after purchasing the calves, I woke up to find a storm had knocked out my power. I have a gas stove so making the morning coffee was possible but the biggest problem was water. I’m on a well (two actually) and no electricity translated into no pump and hence no water. While I keep a gallon or two in the house for emergencies, there simply is no practical way for me to store enough water for the livestock. I fed as usual but couldn’t fill water troughs that morning.
The dogs and I puttered around, doing what we could without power, until the crews got the problem fixed shortly after noon. I immediately headed out to fill water troughs only to hear the heifer lowing. It didn’t sound like the lowing was coming from the pasture and sure enough, through the trees, I could see her running up and down the easement my neighbors use as a driveway to access their property behind me.
My first thought was that the fence was down (this is an expensive but poorly built fence so that wasn’t a huge surprise) and I gathered up my fencing tools and Tuck and went off to retrieve a cow and mend a fence.
We walked the fence line along the easement without finding a break. The gate in the cross fence was open to allow the cows and goats access to both pastures so evidently the cow had found a break in the fence in the furthest pasture. Tuck and I trudged back across the field to the gate and then across the next pasture to the fence line along the easement. We walked that entire fence line without finding a break. While that explained why the steer and all the goats were still in the pasture, it didn’t explain how the heifer got onto the easement. Time enough to worry about that after Tuck and I retrieved the heifer though. Back into the first pasture we went. I found a section of fence that had been spliced and set to the task of taking the fence down. Of course, the goats were fascinated by what I was doing so Tuck was given the job of keeping the goats away from me and the fence. Tuck moved the goats to the far end of the pasture and came back just as I was rolling the fence up to provide an opening large enough to move the cow through without difficulty.
Now came the tricky part. The cow was down the easement close to the entry to the neighbor’s property. I didn’t want to push her further that direction but the easement was only wide enough for a single vehicle so getting past the cow without her moving the wrong direction was going to be tough. I called Tuck to heel and off we started. We had just managed to successfully get behind the cow so that we would be driving her towards the gap in the fence when the goats, realizing Tuck was no longer in the pasture, came over to investigate the opening in the fence. I quickly sent Tuck past the cow to push the goats back into the pasture and away from the fence. He moved the goats back across the pasture but now we had this problem. The cow was between Tuck and me. I had already discovered that the cow had no respect for me by myself and wasn’t going to move back down the easement without a dog. Worse, Tuck was very likely going to push the cow right over the top of me if he tried to come back to where I was.
With trepidation I moved as close to the fence as I could and called Tuck. With a wary eye on the heifer, Tuck stuck close to the fence and came. Together we started to move the heifer. For a couple of minutes it looked like the whole process would go off smoothly and without a hitch. Tuck and I stopped moving forward just before the heifer came abreast the opening of the fence. The intent was that she would stop moving at that point, notice the gap in the fence and go join the steer and goats in the pasture. At first, all went according to plan. The heifer stopped in the right spot, she looked over at the others in the pasture, and then . . . she turned and started moving down the easement towards the road. By the time she got ten feet past the opening in the fence it was clear she wasn’t going to turn around again. I sent Tuck and he hugged the fence line past the cow and ran in front of the heifer, stopping her forward motion. He very slowly advanced and to my surprise and delight she turned and headed back towards me. Holding my breath (and hoping he didn’t keep moving her right over the top of me) I waited and Tuck very slowly advanced until the cow was abreast the opening of the fence again. Without any direction from me, Tuck stopped and let her settle. I gave Tuck a command, he moved, the heifer moved and then all that was left was to repair the fence and wonder how the heifer had gotten out.
A couple of days later when I came home and found the heifer in the driveway I mentioned the problem to a neighbor who laughed and asked if it was a heifer. I said yes, and was told that heifers, unlike steers, were notorious for that behavior and that she was jumping the fence.
Lesson Four: Heifers don’t taste any better than steers and are a whole lot more trouble.