We've had some excitement around the farm in the past few weeks. Mike went to the cattle auction in Benson, Minnesota knowing there'd be some great Angus stock-- bred for grassfed production-- on the block. The Lowline Angus heifers were coming from Prairie Horizons Farm- near Starbuck, and having toured their operation, we were excited to be building a herd based on Luverne Forbord's expertise, genetic selection, and care.
It was a great event opening the cattle trailer and letting the baby Angus jump out and run into our pasture. All five us, the two dogs, and our dozen Dexter cattle hopping around with excitement.
We'd put our 'guard mule' in the barn as dear old Rusty was never happy when any new creature came into his pasture. On the plus side, we've never lost a single calf to a predator, whereas our neighbor has. Also, last spring when the skunks were coming out of hibernation, Rusty would stomp to death any skunk that wandered into the pasture. He killed three of them that we saw or found.
Bad part was, Rusty didn't care for having anything new in the pasture-- including the calves. Rusty could count (note I'm using the past tense here) and so 1-2-3-4-5-6-7-8-9 cows did not equate when they started calving and we now had 10-11-12-13. So he harassed the calves nearly from the moment they were born. We'd tie Rusty up until he got over it. But he was never fond of the new additions.
So the day after we got the new Angus calves and everyone was playing nice in the pasture, we let Rusty out to meet the new additions. I'm putting it mildly to say that all hell broke lose. Rusty saw 5 intruders in the pasture and went into kill mode-- chasing, biting, kicking, braying wildly. He mercilessly chased our new Angus calves until in utter self preservation they burst through the fence and headed for the hills.
Now we had our new, and relatively expensive, beautiful Lowline Angus cattle fanning out across the wild prairie landscape-- some went south, the others went northeast. Again, the whole family was out in the fields and spreading out across 100's of acres to try to find the cattle. A couple of them went into the slough grass behind our house-- which is about 6-8 feet high. It was impossible to even hear or see them. We tromped through, but only flushed out a big buck. Some of the cattle had crossed out of our section, so we drove around trying to spot them. Keep in mind-- we've had no snow this winter so there was no tracking we could do. Also, black calves do not stand out on expanses of black soil. The sun set with our cattle out in the wild.
Believe me there was a lot of wailing and gnashing of teeth over losing our brand new baby calves. Not the least of which was-- "I hope Luverne doesn't find out what we've done with his lovely little calves!!" All sorts of dangers lurk outside the pasture-- many coyotes, timber wolves sighted close to our farm, and I've seen a cougar. Also, with no snow there is no water for the cattle-- they can't go long without water.
So we called the Sheriff to let him know we had a few 350 pound cattle roaming the back roads (quite the road hazard), sheepishly called all our neighbors, and then reluctantly called it into the local radio station. You know, the local AM station that broadcasts all the local birthdays, deaths, and fool farmers who lost their cattle.
Two days later, two cattle were standing about 1/4 mile outside our dining room window-- thirsty, tired, and happy to be led home. That left three missing.
Our neighbors seemed rather endeared to us for losing our cattle. I guess our public radio humiliation made them remember all the mess ups they'd been in. A surprising number of farmers called with their own tales of losing cattle and chasing them through tall corn for weeks on end.
Mike (with a little help from me) spent the next 8 days walking through all the tall slough grass within a couple miles of our farm-- believe me that's a lot of slough grass (remember- we live in a USGS map section officially named "The Dismal Swamp"). On day 10, we got a call that our cattle were in a field 3 miles east of us. With the help of neighbor Russ, his wife and kids, we got our cattle into their fenced farmstead and brought them back home. These three were big and healthy-- having had their fill of all the grass and leftover corn between our farm and Russ'.
If only that were the end of the story. Rusy took up permanent residence in the barn- away from the cattle. Even so, a couple days later, the Sheriff called us and said there were cattle on the blacktop road to the west. Some other poor schmuck had his cattle get out. Mike, now owing the neighbors a helping hand in return, got in our minivan and headed out to help. Yup, you guessed it. They were our cattle again.
With the help of the Kellen boys-- the kind of young men you want to populate an agricultural county- these kids handle animals, vehicles, tractors, and more-- we corralled the 5 Angus and got them back home.
Rusty was a good mule and now he's in a better place. We sold him for $.50 to a nice grandfather in South Dakota who has grandkids, but no livestock.
We should have gotten rid of Rusty months ago. He may have protected the cattle, but overall didn't help our operation. For example, we find ourselves calving in January because Rusty wouldn't let the Dexter bull anywhere near the Dexter cows. And until Rusty was gone, I didn't realize what a menace he was to the young stock. Once he was off the farm-- all the babies ran around chasing each other, tails up in the air. I am seeing now how happy little pasture calves frolic, when free from the tyranny of oppression. And hopefully-- they'll now stay in the pasture.