By Rosanna Bauman
It’s May, so the cows are moving out! We had half of the cow herd wintering at our farm, and half of them wintering up at Marvin’s farm. We rent pastures for the summer months (May-October) so that the home pastures can get a rest. Cattle are hard on pastures in the winter, because they’ll eat the grass way down before they eat any hay. The grass needs a resting period to recover from all this aggressive “mowing”. For most pastures, that is the winter, when the grass is dormant. Around home, the summer growth of grass is left standing to be grazed during the winter. This gives our grass a rest when they have the most available nutrients for recovery and growth.
The grass is beautiful right now. It is easy to see where the description “a sea of grass” is derived from when describing the prairies. When the grass gets waist high (or taller if it is big bluestem grasses) and the seed heads have fruited out, the sight of the wind moving across a large field of grass is nearly breathtaking. The green blue grass has touches of silver and gray that flash when the wind moves it into swells that are identical to those on the ocean. It is easy to see how the covered wagon’s canvas tops looked just like ships on a grass sea, and were dubbed the “prairie schooners”. There are people who can sit for hours on a beach, watching the waves. I think the grasslands are equally mesmerizing, seeing the endless ripples of grass-waves, from a wind that seldom stops.
We prefer to do our cattle round-up on foot, in a less threatening manner, and only use the four-wheeler when necessary. We feel we are more aware of the cow’s temperament when we are down there beside them. The cows are much bigger than us, so we treat them with more respect. We won’t have to do so much footwork after we build our new corral system. We have plans to build a “Grandin”-designed corral, but it takes more metal and money than what we have right now, so we will continue with our hands-on sorting style:
The boys slowly surrounded the herd and started walking them up. Everything appeared to be going fine: the herd was calm, and headed in the right direction. Then, one of our nearly full-grown steers exploded with a dash for freedom. He was born on our property and has been through this process four times a year since his birth. He has not had a big record of rebellion, but for some reason he did not remember that this was a trip to greener pastures. This misguided steer thought he was running toward freedom, when it actually was his death run that he was starting upon. (It sounds a little too much like a human’s reaction…) We are pretty strict cullers when it comes to our cattle’s attitudes. Any cow or calf that displays a wild, high-strung temperament gets sold on the auction block or taken to the butcher. We can’t afford to have one bad apple spoiling the entire herd’s docility. This steer had been about two months away from being selected for the butcher house. But he must have woke up in a bad mood that morning, because he not only wheeled an about face, but encouraged the other heifers to follow him. Going full steam towards the west, the suddenly excited herd stampeded through the fence without pause. Now it’s time to use the four-wheeler! Kevin buzzed ahead to try to turn the lead steer’s head, the rest of the men ran up on foot to be ready to take the herd back. After a couple of unsuccessful attempts to turn him, Kevin managed to separate the steer from the herd. The steer barreled off towards the west property line as Kevin worked at turning the herd. Without their leader, the herd soon turned around and the men were able to walk the still nervous, but now obedient cattle into the corral. Kevin turned around to pursue the steer, who had just blasted over the west property fence into the adjoining woods. Leaving the four-wheeler, Kevin grabbed his lasso and pursued the belligerent bovine on foot. At one point, he had the steer cornered and prepared to toss the rope. Before he could finish the act, the steer charged him. Fortunately, Kevin has had more experience with nervous and charging cattle than the rest of the family. For a time, Kevin worked at the local livestock auction barn, where he had a few brushes with angry cattle. He was not so much scared as surprised at this charge, but he calmly stepped aside and let the steer go by, but the steer was not done yet. For a time, the steer chased Kevin around a tree, and Kevin chased the steer.
Deciding he wasn’t gaining much headway, Kevin dropped his pursuit and returned to the corrals to help the men load the other cattle. Kevin had seen the steer duck into a small creek bed, and figured that it would be a shady place for him to calm down until he returned. After securing the herd in the corrals, Marvin returned with Kevin to the woods where they tracked the steer to his new location. Apparently, the rest only renewed his determination to avoid humans instead of calming him. Leaping yet another fence, the steer raced out across the fields and up the gravel road, we wished that we would not have had to continue the chase, as the steer was in danger of giving himself a heart attack. However, we felt that we needed to get him back under control because it was a public hazard to leave 1,200 pounds of high-strung beef on the loose. He could wreck other landowner’s fences and let their cattle out, or even worse, the steer could run in front of motorists driving at night. A beef this large could cause considerable damage to vehicles and lives. Kevin had actually been able to put the lasso around the steer’s neck but he had jerked it out of Kevin’s grip. The steer finally ran out of steam and Kevin was able to pick up the trailing lasso and wrap it around a tree.
Dad and Kevin quickly hog tied him and hauled him into the cattle trailer to bring him home. The point of capture was nearly two miles from our farm; this steer had taken quite a sprint! Once at the farm, they hosed the steer down to cool him off, but it looked as if this steer’s rebellious spell would be his undoing. We planned to haul him into the auction as soon as possible, despite the fact the he was nearly ready for butcher. We don’t make much off of the cattle sold at the auction barn, but we didn’t want to risk a repeat performance. Exhausted by such a stressful turn to the task we thought would be a smooth one, the family gladly wrapped up the cattle relocating. We retired that night having had a four hour lesson on the rewards of obedience and the Bitter fruits of rebellion, illustrated by blood, sweat, and (nearly) tears.