Who knew cows could jump four foot split rail fences? Then again, who knew our heifers wouldn’t walk over a small wooden bridge to join their calves on the other side of the creek the day they all escaped and hiked a mile up the road to our neighbor’s house? They had already blazed a trail through terrain I thought was impassable to cows. What was the big deal about a three foot bridge? Heck, why not just jump over the creek?
No, these girls took the path of least resistance as we tried to push them along the most direct route to the “barn field”, aka cow jail, where I would dare them to escape again. They jumped out of the orchard and into my flower garden, landing with cloven hooves in the middle of the hostas. Karen and Allen, our neighbors from up the road, the neighbors who had called to inform us the cows were in their backyard and who were, therefore, quickly learning the ins and outs of driving cattle (this was the second time in as many days), looked at me in surprise. I think I might have been swearing at the time.
The heifers were becoming more anxious (and dangerous) by the minute now they were in the flower garden, unfamiliar territory to them. Twelve hundred pound brown and white bovine bellowing for their babies is not a pretty sight from ground level. Where was my cow pony? Right, he was on a far pasture getting fat and not really trained for round ups amongst the roses anyway. There was no easy way out from the flower garden. All the paths were designed for people. One way led to the driveway and the road; the other had a swinging gate, maybe wide enough for a cow, but how to hold it open and not be in a direct line of two charging, wild eyed, and now mad mothers?
“Big arms! Big arms!” I yelled at my friends. What this really means is to spread your arms wide giving the impression you are bigger than you seem. If you have a stick in hand, well, even better. The peripheral vision of most farm animals allows them to take all this in and the smallest movement can effect a total change of direction. Chickens are the best for this, an irrelevant but useful factoid…if you have chickens.
Of course, we had been using big arms to start and I had even taken to ‘wapping’ the stick directly on the ground in front of one of the cows to get her to cross the bridge. When she decided to turn around and plow right past me, I tossed the stick and ducked behind a tree. Big arms are, after all, only the illusion of strength and size.
And then, it was over. The gate was held as wide as possible, the girls escaped the garden, crashed across the creek to within nose distance of their calves, another gate was opened, some pushing and herding, cow jail was achieved. As we walked back up the road to Karen and Allen’s house to collect my car, I thanked them for all their help, starting with the original, apologetic phone call as I was heading out the door to the dentist, “Did I know my cows were in their back yard…again?” At least canceling a dentist appointment due to escaped cows is not seen as a “dog ate my homework” excuse around here.
And, the leaping lamb part of the story? While I never knew cows could jump, I was also not aware that lambs at play have this wonderful and hilarious way of running and leaping in the air, all four hooves off the ground at once. I have tried to capture this movement in photos, to show my more urban friends and family what I mean, with little success. Leaping lambs are the manifestation of an unexpected lightness of spirit we can all appreciate. They represent childhood and innocence and a carefree existence and they make us smile. Karen and Allen helped me out with the cows that day because they are good neighbors, but maybe also because you never know when you might just see a leaping lamb somewhere on the farm, and then, who cares if the cows jumped over the fence.
(This is a photo of Peter Rabbit, a bummer lamb from our spring crop. A bummer is a lamb that has been abandoned by his mother. I became his surrogate mama, with a fresh serving of formula every four hours for the first several weeks!)
All rights reserved. Copyright Scottie Jones 2006