Worm food deposited on our lawn by the dairy heifers

Animal Aeration

By Troy Bishopp

Have you ever had a dream so vivid it woke you from a sound sleep?  Two weeks ago, it seems I fell prey to dreaming of green pastures, fence moves and frolicking cows.  This joyful trance was rudely interrupted by a loud “MOO”.  It’s the kind of sound that suggests it’s a bit too real.  This was not a dream, but what we affectionately call, “A class one farm emergency”.

As I bolted from the confines of a comfortable bed in unison with the “The cows are out” declaration, I saw several heifers munching on my wife’s shrubs under our window.  Confusion, panic and anger swept over my demeanor as my wife, daughter and I tried to find some appropriate cow-catching attire at 4am.  My mind and heart raced as I propelled my sock-less feet into the cold rubber boots not thinking I was about to commit a fatal mistake.

As soon as I threw the outside light switch, I heard the sound of trouble.  Like a resounding herd of buffalo, 40 dairy heifers stampeded by me on their way to Route 12-B.  “Oh my God, No” was all I could muster as the cascading streetlights guided the escapees down the sidewalk toward the hamlet of Deansboro.

The situation just got a whole lot scarier as I jumped in my pick-up to head them off from going head on into unsuspecting traffic.  My heart was in my throat when I got up the road, only to realize I had lost them as tractor-trailers whizzed by my truck going the wrong way on the edge of the shoulder.  My wife tracked the hoof-prints turning right and up my neighbor’s driveway (who is also our country lawyer) to their lawn which borders our pasture.

Lucky for us, both our properties are fenced and the cows had settled in her bare flower beds.  I sprinted to the barn and got a roll of poly-tape so my faithful wife, Corrine and daughter Katie could cordon off the only way back out.  They fluttered the tape so the heifers could see their old control nemesis.  I had put a small gate in the corner of Betty and Dave’s lot so they could walk their dogs or ski on our property.  In this case, it also served as an escape route for the eager youngsters to get back to our pastures as first light seeped into the landscape.

As I watched them innocently file by (as if they did nothing wrong), and closed the gate, I started weeping and praying to God for his blessing in saving all of us from undue harm.  It was by his grace, I believe, that we avoided a catastrophic event.  The exercise also showed my ticker was up to the challenge even though I was emotionally exhausted.

The horizon brightened enough so we could survey the damage and find out where they got out which had puzzled me since I jumped out of bed.  We had taken them off pasture at the onset of mud season and moved them to our sacrifice area surrounded by a secure compound of barns, 6 strand high tensile electric fences and sturdy corral panels.  I thought it was basically bullet/idiot proof.  But then how many of you know the power of animal ingenuity, curiosity or just weird circumstances on a farm?

It appeared a heifer must have gotten her head in between a gate support bar and wrangled long enough to break the chain to allow the gate to open coincidently, on a clear path to our lawn.  The grass whisperer (Me) takes pride in leaving a heavy stockpile of grass over the winter which provided a solid, quarter acre of available organic forage to graze.

At this point, I’m gonna take a little credit for the heifers being so amiable in not heading up to The Deansboro Superette.  They were just too full and happy to really try and find greener pastures.

How do I know this?  It looked like they grazed heavily for several hours as evidenced by the uniform cow patty distribution, and then took a nap as evidenced by the numerous bedded down sites within the lawn.  As luck would have it, some of them went in the pasture field behind our neighbors which could have been a contributing factor in the herd turning right to be with their sisters.  Whew!!

On the plus side, we got inexpensive landscape services such as deep soil aeration, shrub pruning, thatch removal and fertility transfer without paying a single contractor.  Our neighbors received much less impact because the good girls stayed mostly on the sidewalk and walked on lawns instead of a frenzied trotting (like when I flicked the lights on).  Most never knew what happened before dawn albeit a few hoof divots and cow pies were seen.  Little did they know the full gravity of this harrowing experience until they read this true story.

In honoring the sentiment of “Experience is something you don’t get until just after you need it”, I have a few takeaway lessons:  Use heavier chains on gates with quality hasps, well-fed happy animals wander less, train animals to portable fencing, appreciate good neighbors that understand rural life, review your farm emergency plans annually, love your family, praise God, find humor and don’t startle animals at 4am.  Published in Country Folks and The Editor