The Last Cows
Late in our farm odyssey, we decided that cows were a little too much responsibility, and really cramped your style for things like summer vacations. During our last summer with cows, we tried to go off on a 10-day trip to Canada. While we were in Nova Scotia, Pittsburgh experienced 10 days of 100+ degree heat. I was worried the whole time about the cows having enough to drink, and wound up driving straight through from Montreal getting home at 3 AM. I unhooked the electric fence and went off with a flashlight to find dead or dying cows. What I did find was that my ex-father-in-law (more about him in a minute) had dammed up the little creek leaving a small lake about 3-ft deep, so I knew the cows were okay. What I didn’t know was that the ex-wife, who had gone off in the opposite direction had reconnected the gate handle so that the fence that I thought was dead was alive. After finding that the water situation was good, I relaxed as I walked up the hill from the creek. Not worrying about the fence, I brushed into it and got knocked on my ass into wet brambles. I screamed at the top of my lungs, “Who the @%# connected the #@$% fence!!!” The ex-wife chastised me for “Yelling like a baby and making me think that you found the cows dead.” So this was my fault.
I really liked my ex father-in-law. Still do. Liked him much better than the ex-wife as things turned out. The guy could fix anything. He was a diesel mechanic by trade, but his passion was small engines. He was hard of hearing, but could tell you that the neighbors tractor was running too rich just by hearing it in the background while talking on the phone. He delighted in my relative lack of handiness which he loved to point out to me and anyone else who would listen. One time, one of our minivans had an issue with the ignition. The engine was running, and the ignition was frozen and couldn’t be shut off. In hindsight, I should’ve got some vice grips and just man-handled it, but instead I called my ex father-in-law on one of those old cordless phones in the pre-cell phone days. He told me to open the hood and locate the coil wire. Before he could tell me to go get a hockey stick and pry off the coil wire, the phone went “CRICK”. I, of course, grabbed what I thought was an insulated wire and got knocked 20 feet onto the ground with my arm completely numb. For years he would introduce me to his friends like this, “Hey, here’s my dumbass son-in-law with a PhD in nuclear engineering who grabbed the coil wire on a running engine”. Okay, maybe I didn’t like him all that much, but he fixed every car, lawnmower, tractor, and anything else that ran on internal combustion.
Along with being a great mechanic, he was a frustrated farmer. He loved that we had this place with all these animals, so he was bummed out when we decided that our cattle ranching days were over. We still had the side field fenced for goats that figure into other stories, but no more cows, so we thought. It turns out he fixed a piece of machinery for a local farmer who saw a chance to defray the bill by offering him two beef calves. I came home from work and out in the field with my goats were these two cows. Now I liked the guy, so I was resigned to keeping them for him. In a previous post, I describe the process to acclimate new cows to a new pasture. The father-in-law didn’t read my post. Instead, he comes out the next day while I’m at work to inspect his herd. He’s seen us walk up to our cows a hundred times, so he walks right up to these. They take one look at him and bolt through the fence and are gone for weeks.
We put up posters (mistake) and had people calling us at all hours telling us all the bad things our cows had done. “Your cows ate my petunias.” “Your cows ruined my washing.” “Your cows killed JFK.” I didn’t even bother telling them that THEY WEREN’T MY COWS. So every time there was a sighting, I’d dutifully go off to try to retrieve them, but as they weren’t trained to come to people, there was no way to do this. We needed those rodeo guys who could ride up along side and rope them. This went on for a couple of weeks until the neighbors had had quite enough of these cows. About 10 guys with pickup trucks got together spontaneously when the cows were sighted a mile away on somebody’s field. There were two fields separated by a 20 foot strip of small trees and brambles. Somebody had some orange plastic construction fencing which we strung through the trees to make a hidden barrier. We then fanned out across the field and slowly herded the cows toward the hidden fence. We all had ropes, and by the time the cows figured out that they were trapped, we rushed them and got ropes on both of them. We tied them both off to trees and then it was Miller Time.
Except that one cow went berserk and broke not one, but two ropes and went trotting across the field. One guy reached into the cab of his pickup for his deer rifle. “That cow don’t want to live.”, he said. In the end, the cow couldn’t bear to be without its partner in crime and came in on its own.
I absolutely refused to take these cows back to my place an offered them to whoever wanted them. But nobody wanted bad news cows, not even for free. So we took them down to the slaughterhouse and they ground them into hamburger.
That was the worst tasting beef I ever tasted.
In the end, it did stop my father-in-law from accepting animals for payment, though.