Last week was rain rain rain for the last couple days of Melanie and Yola’s visit. I was really hoping the steers would arrive here before these ladies left on their next adventure, so that they could see the full cycle of cattle purchasing, like how they were able to witness many of the seeds they planted sprouting in the rain. But alas, the timing did not work for them to see the boys actually here on the farm. They came the day after, on Friday. Of course it was threatening rain all morning, which I feared would make driving the truck and trailer over the rough ground to the “bull pen” more risky for Kevin and his brother. Kevin called me at 12:30 and left a message, I was still in the egg room. His message was not good. One of the bulls had a freak out at the vet center, and would not go into the chute, apparently his horns were too far spread and he didn’t want to/couldn’t maneuver them in through the chute, so he was on the brink of too much stress. Kevin said in the message he was sorry, but he didn’t want the bull to keel over with a heart attack, so he had decided to just leave him there to be sold at the auction. My heart sank as I listened to the voicemail. I need 3 steers, not two. I had figured the delivery expense across three cattle, not 2. I called him back and he said they were enroute already, with the two highlands. He said it was probably better to have found out how wild that was one before he had delivered him here, and I had to agree. It then began to pour out.
Kevin and his brother pulled up as I was wandering around outside, looking up at the grey and stormy sky. The rain had stopped, but it felt like it could dump again at any moment. I walked them to the place where they were to drive the trailer. After he expertly backed up, we fashioned the gate and a second cattle panel to the sides of the back of the trailer. I climbed onto the trailer running boards and took a peek inside to see who had made it to the farm. Both sort of light blondies, not the cutest red one I really took a shine to as I looked through the pictures after our visit to check them out. Oh well, these two were beauties, although they were scared out of their minds. They have never really been handled in their 3 years, and had just been through not only a 2 hour trailer ride, but a vet inspection and one of them had an elastrator cinched around his scrotum. Turns out the other one was already a steer, Kevin had forgotten he’d banded him as a weanling bull calf.
And then, just like that, Kevin’s brother opened the trailer, anxious to get them out. An enormous strawberry blonde fuzzy wuzzy leaped out and ran to the back of the pavillion, where I had had Lola’s initiation area set up previously. He had quite a dewlap hanging from his staunch neck down to his brisket, very broad and thick shoulders, overall a handsome stout and stocky guy. He’s the one who was a bull until that morning. The trailer partition separating front from back was opened and steer #2 came leaping out, running over to join his commiserator. He is taller, more a blonde dunn, and as he has been a steer a long time he is a bit more refined looking with a more “delicate” and defined neck and head, unlike his buddy. But they were both big guys, no doubt. Ridiculously big and very tall horns. Lola watched as they unloaded as was VERY excited. She raced around her paddock, down the hill and back up again in joy. COWS!!! She mooed at them once she came back from doing her happy dance with my goat May racing at her heels. The steers were trembling a little, but thankfully not trying to leap out like I feared they would. After we got the gate secured, Kevin’s brother said we should leave the area so they’d to be able to settle down a bit. They are not used to people being near them at all, so with their stressful crazy day, me gawking at them like the new cowgirl I am was not going to be in their best interest.
We settled up, and Kevin and his brother drove off. Yay to craigslist success! During the next few hours, I would go peek from far away, to make sure the steers were still in the pen, to talk soothingly to them from afar. They were definitely nervous and extremely attentive to my every move, heads swinging immediately in my direction as soon as I uttered a greeting, even when they heard my footsteps, or saw my movement over by the duck barn. Later that night Lola started mooing. She wanted to go out her nightly grazing walk. I slowly walked towards the steers, as my path to the “Lola gate” was heading in their direction. They let me know that was not going to work, so I went around the back where they wouldn’t see me, climbing through the thorny wild plum brush. Lola greeted me at the gate, and May too. Lola has gotten SO very good about haltering, she used to toss her horns in restlessness over the 30 seconds it would take me to fit the halter on her head. Now she just holds still for the most part. I have also learned to stand at her shoulder if possible, as her horns are less likely to catch on my pants or legs (or face) that way, I can reach over her head more safely. But as soon as I got the halter on Lola, I wasn’t sure what to do, try to pull Lola through the brush so the boys didn’t see us? Or use her as an ambassador by letting her walk around the spot where they’d see us, me WITH her. That is what I chose. It was risky, because they could have then decided to leap away on the other side. But they didn’t. Lola was very soothing for them to see. There’s a REAL cow there, I saw in their faces, but then they saw me. With this cow. I walked Lola away from their area right away, so the steers could process what they were seeing without us being right up by their space. They watched, they turned circles, and then as the sound of Lola ripping grass with her mouth traveled over to where they stood, the dunn steer came out and watched. And then HE started grazing too. Oh cows! So seemingly simple! I talked to the boys as Lola and May and I wandered around their pen area. Lola didn’t seem nearly as interested in making face time with them as I thought she would. She seemed perfectly content to just see them, then kept eating. Towards the end of my hour out with my heifer and goat, I brought them to the steers’ gate and the dunn came and sniffed Lola’s nose, and curiously watched May. I don’t think they’d EVER seen a goat before! And then he saw me, I was right there too, very near him. He kind of huffed and wheeled back away. Baby steps.
Early the next morning, the brilliant sun finally came out and I looked out the window to see a reddish body in the pen. Phew! They were still here! I made coffee and got the egg buckets, then wandered to where I could look at them, but not approach too close. I rubbed my eyes, was the glare from the sun blurring my vision? There was only only steer in the pen! Oh no—all I could think was, well, there’s that $1,100 I spent and worked so hard for, just gone. FUCK, is what I said out loud. The panels of the pen seemed to be intact as far as I could see from where I stood, pretty far away. The bulky boy, the bull-steer, was still in there. He was mooing and pacing, looking at Lola. Uh oh. What is happening. And as I thought this, the bulky boy crunched down and like a slinky, leapt STRAIGHT UP IN THE AIR AND OVER THE FENCE. It was just like watching an Olympic Hunter Jumper horse take a fence, although his jump would have been disqualified as he knocked over the whole side of panels with his back feet at the end of this incredible leap. Dumbstruck and knees shaking, I only could think there goes all that money. Just like that. What in the world was I thinking. Bulky boy ran confusedly. I then also ran, thinking maybe I could head him off, but then what, try to steer him towards the tiny gate to Lola’s paddock? That’s not gonna….oh wait, just then he decided to simply leap over Lola’s fence and in with her. Easy peasey. And then I saw the dunn steer. He was on the OTHER side of Lola’s paddock by the road. And guess what? He TOO leapt in to be with Lola, after he saw his buddy in there. Fences are quite simply a mere suggestion to highlands, I have heard this before, but if Lola hadn’t been here, they most certainly would have headed for the hills because they didn’t know this place as home yet. They DID know Lola was here and this little cow was as close to “home” as they knew. Lola totally saved the day, saved the project, saved my sanity! Phew, phew, phew.
So for the past 4 days the 2 steers have stayed with Lola and May in the small old goat/turkey/goose paddock. I hadn’t intended for things to go this way, nor did I want Lola (or May!) in with such big beasts for a bit until they got to know each other. But they are just fine! Lola’s been showing the boys that it’s ok when I walk on the outside of the fence towards them, and she comes to me for scratches and treats. She’s my cattle “foil,” allowing me to approach them much closer than I would have ever been able to without her. Look at that cutie poo!
They have even started sniffing my hand, and slowed their initial response to wheel away and stride off nervously. They are marvelous, gorgeous beasts, and I have much respect for them and all they have been through.
Yesterday we got the first electric fence paddock set up, opening off their home paddock. I haltered Lola and walked her into it with MayMay charging ahead, and then the boys followed. After a few minutes grazing, they went back to their home paddock. I didn’t want to push it, so then I tried again this morning and they have spent the day getting used to the new space and grazing, but then going back “home” throughout the day. I like this very much, that they have a sense of their space here now.
Since they are essentially wild, I feel very proud of the enormous strides we have made in less than a week, and from such a potential disaster too! It’s been quite an adventure already. I am in love with cows!! I named the dunn “Ochre” and the strawberry blonde “Nillo.”