Fear and Lowing in Ohio

September 29, 2011 06:30 AM

Shared by Mary Lawrence - Bremen, Ohio

On this Ohio cattle farm, escaping the pasture is more than a challenge—it's a way of life

Whenever my dad finishes building a fence, he pronounces it—with a chuckle—to be horse high, bull strong and pig tight.

A Day in Ag logoAnd yet our cattle have proved again and again that where there’s a will, there’s a way out. To be fair, escape more often occurs through gates and doors rather than through or over our fences.

Big Monica—the largest cow Dad ever raised—figured out how to slide open the latch on the milking parlor door so she could lead a charge on the feed room.

Huey, a yearling herd bull, learned quickly that if he could get past the gate to the stud barn, he could nudge aside the latch and open the barn’s steel door. His goal was to let out Dover, a bull who was nearly twice his size, so that Huey could bunt heads with him and show him who was the new top bull. Huey broke him out of jail more than once, and each time Dover soon brushed him aside to pursue more interesting targets, like a parked VW Bug...or my father.

When my dad retired from dairy farming and switched to beef, the Angus and Herefords also showed talent for breaking out. Mr. T, a big, burly Angus, found that if he braced the top of his head just right, he could lift an offending gate off its hinges and flip it out of the way. He became so skilled at this that he earned a trip to the stockyards.

In all honesty, however, most of the breakouts over the years could be blamed on our carelessness. The cattle merely made the most of the opportunity.

The family farm used to be on the edge of Marion, Ohio. Over the years, it became encircled by suburbia. Which meant when the cows escaped, they could trample six or seven gardens in no time. My father would then have to go from neighbor to neighbor to make amends. The gardens, of course, were always on the brink of harvest, and the vegetables were always remarkably precious.

One breakout we’ve never forgotten took place some 30 years ago when a herd of heifers and dry cows, escorted by a yearling bull, got out. Instead of charging into the neighbors' gardens, they had gathered on busy State Route 309. There, in front of God, my grandfather’s grocery store, a car upholstery shop and harried motorists, the bull mated with one of the heifers, by the name of Ruby. Kenny Rogers obviously anticipated this spectacle when he begged Ruby not to take her love to town. And when the bull cast an eye on the fellows in the upholstery shop, that’s when they took to their heels.

Our cow-chasing days may be coming to an end. My dad is selling his herd a small trailerload at a time. Pop turns 78 next month, and he doesn’t want to go into another winter with cattle to care for.

He has about a dozen head of cows and spring calves grazing on the hill. And at least one bull among them. They look quiet for now. They look content. But someone somewhere is keeping an eye open for the gate that one of us forgot to close. And we’ll be chasing cows one more time.


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Spell Check

9/29/2011 08:17 AM

  Oh, my, Mary! How nostalgic. Your piece takes me right back to our small farm in Ohio. How often I chased down cows (and pigs)! Thanks for the beautifully written piece.


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