Yesterday I woke up with the sun at 4:30, in a fabulous mood. I woke thinking of my friends, and feeling enveloped in love and support from them. Those warm fuzzies are a great way to start the day. For the past 5 years I haven’t been as good of a friend as I would like to be, but now that I have taken control of my life, I get to say YES to my friends- graduation parties, hang outs, coffee meetups, farm visits. Friends are the family you hand choose, they are your tribe. I am so humbled and grateful for all those in my life who have stuck with me, and to witness our lives and relationships evolving and changing.
Anyways, I don’t get up at 4:30 usually, if I can help it, but yesterday was a very important day. I was going to meet two strangers from craigslist and we were going to drive 7 hours together to go pick up my new cows and bring them home.
By now you may have noticed I am a craigslist “farm and garden” section fan. It’s my go-to anytime I need to buy or sell anything farm related. Since the delivery of my two steers (when I needed three) I’ve been watching craigslist closely for highlands. Prices were staying high, no one had steers for sale that would be pasture “finishable” this year. Lots of heifers and yearlings, cows and bulls. I finally found some bulls who were the perfect age, they were gorgeous and the sellers were willing to deliver them to the vet first to get their nuts elastrated off, turning them from bulls into steers. The couple were extraordinarily nice on the phone, they’d raised these two from calves and loved Highlands. But I was a bit freaked about the price and also fly season. The elastrator/callicrate bander doesn’t leave an open wound, it simply causes the scrotum to atrophy and eventually wither up and fall off, but flies are pernicious this time of year regardless of whether there was a wound or not, so it would be risky to do this. So after I talked to the couple, I scoured other regions of Wisconsin on craigslist for highlands and came across an ad I’d seen maybe a month back. The price was dropped too. Two pregnant cows and a bull for sale. The cows were due in July. The price for the three (and also the calves inutero!) was only $300 more than the price for the two bulls. SUPER SCORE. The seller emailed back the next morning and I called him immediately to discuss his cattle. He told me about how calm they are, that they eat cookies for treats and his wife wouldn’t let him butcher their Highlands because she loved them too much, so he was switching over to growing a herd of Hereford cattle. Although he couldn’t haul for me, I said I want them and I’ll send a deposit check to show my intent and arrange a hauler. I don’t know what came over me, it was just such a great deal and in the pictures they looked very healthy and I loved that they were obviously rather tame to be eating cookies out of the family’s hands. The fact that the cows would be calving in a month also sealed the deal. And get this- the bull will not only serve to be Lola’s boyfriend this fall, he’ll rebreed the cows when they go into heat after calving (hopefully), and he will complete the grassfed beef pre-orders I have as well. Badda Bing Badda Bang! I emailed the nice couple and said I had decided to pass on their two bulls, but all the best to them.
Finding a cattle hauler seemed intimidating. With the 2 steers I got lucky with a seller who could deliver them to me, for a fee. With Lola, we used our horse trailer but had to barter to borrow a powerful enough truck to pull the trailer, and that trailer is not really trustworthy for long distances (these three were 3.5 hours away) as the tires keep having issues and the brake lights aren’t working. I googled and asked on facebook groups about haulers. But guess where I found my cattle hauler? Craigslist, of course! I found a guy based out of River Falls, he sounded extremely animal-friendly and kind in what he wrote up in his ad, he listed reasonable rates and when I emailed him, he responded the same day with a quote. I arranged a date with the seller and the hauler and got nervous.
The seller wanted cash only. I had some issues trying to figure out how to go about paying for the cows without having to drive 3.5 hours there myself. I asked the hauler how this is usually done, and he offered to take the payment for me, saying he wasn’t a scammer. But I didn’t know him at all, so of course I was not comfortable with this idea, no offense dude. I boldly asked “could I ride with you to get the cattle and bring the payment to the seller?” Sure he said, only thing is his truck had no AC and his girlfriend usually came along, but they had a seat in the back of the cab I could fit in and I’d be welcome to come with.
We met at a Kwik Trip gas station yesterday at 8am. They were right on time, but when they came out of the truck I was shocked at how young they looked. Justin was 19 and his girlfriend, Kennedy, just 16! I didn’t know this fact until 3 and half hours later when we arrived at our destination and the woman there asked what we were planning to do with these cattle. Justin said, oh these are her (pointing at me) cattle, I’m just the hauler. The woman howled! She said she had thought he was my husband and she was my daughter! I howled at that (a daughter! Ha!) and asked Justin and Kennedy how old they were, and was just flabbergasted! Kennedy had intelligently chatted with me the entire ride there, about her horses, her family raising shorthorn cows, their broilers, various dogs, wanting to raise turkeys, asking me all sorts of questions- she was not your average 16 year old. I told the group how hilarious it was that we were all assembled via craigslist, by me – the craigslist trifecta!
The two cows were adorable and very pregnant, glossy red and glowingly healthy, 3.5 and 5.5 years old. The bull is gorgeous and solid, a reverse brindle- he’s a deep liver chestnut with blond stripes compared to Lola’s red with dark brown stripes. None of them have been given chemicals or vaccines of any kind ever, or fed any grain- well, aside from the cookie treats. The deal was struck and I handed the payment to the seller, then my hauler got the trailer opened and in went the cows. The bull kind of hesitated, but was inside within a couple minutes. And away we went. Feeling the difference in the truck with all that weight being pulled was pretty crazy, but soon enough we were cruising along, westward bound on Highway 94. I asked them a lot of questions about this new business they had formed, the business of hauling livestock. They told me stories of some of the eccentric horse owners they had dealt with and how they were going forward with this idea. I told them they were offering such a valueable service for people like me. It wouldn’t make sense for me to have an expensive and powerful truck when I only need to haul animals occasionally, it makes much more sense to pay someone like them to do it, they carry that overhead and are compensated fairly. I asked what they would do if their truck broke down on a trip, had that ever happened? If they had animals in the trailer, it’s not like you can call AAA to tow a truck that is hauling a trailer full of live animals. This is maybe where their age showed, they admitted that they hadn’t really thought about that.
We stopped for a check on the cattle after an hour, and my sister Mel called me from New Jersey. After a couple gawkers wandered over from the MegaBus parked in the lot, interrupting my conversation, I had to pee badly and then my phone lost service. Sorry Mel!
We got back on the road home. I was getting a little tired with all the driving, the excitement and the rising heat, just zoning out in the back of the truck writing in my journal about how odd it was to be barreling down the highway with 3,000 lbs of cattle behind us, when Justin said he needed to check the coolant and he was sorry, but he had to stop again. As we approached the exit, he calmly said uh oh, the rpm gauge isn’t working. I looked and saw his temperature gauge was WAY up as well. He exited and said oh, nooooo, I’ve lost the power in the steering. Thank god, he strong armed the truck’s wheel and we pulled up to a shady spot. When he opened the hood, he found a shredded belt- the serpentine belt had just busted. Ok, really??? Did I curse our trip by asking about this exact scenario? Oh boy- the cows are stressed and it’s hot out, I just want to get them home. But now what?
These two. Kennedy was so adorable, so supportive and full of helpful direction for her flustered boyfriend. She said- call a parts store and see if they can deliver a belt here. Justin did that. A half hour went by and of all things, as we waited, a parade of patriotically decorated tractors came streaming past, there must have been 40 of them. It was a random Thursday Tractor parade! Of course this led to many of the tractor people wandering over to the broke-down truck and stock trailer with the intriguing horns sticking up. I told many people about highland cattle as I sat there waiting. Kennedy asked me three times if she could get me anything from the gas station. The parts guy arrived with the new belt, he was kind of rude and acted like we were up shit creek, which we did not appreciate at all. Justin worked on the truck and I sat in the shade, constantly getting up to peer in at my cows, cooing “we’ll be home soon (I hope,) hang in there.” They seemed ok as it was cooler in the shade, but obviously this was not an ideal situation for them. I think another hour went by. I ate from the big bowl of sugar snap peas I had brought and offered them to the cows, who just stared at me. The bull tried one. Then I checked on Justin’s progress, and helped hold down the socket wrench so he could get the last part of the belt on. I put on their pair of gloves and climbed up there and had to put all my weight down to hold it in place. He burned his hands as the engine was extraordinarily hot. But when he started the truck, we were back in business! I was very proud of them, I don’t know anyone who could change a serpentine belt on the side of the road. What an insane experience, I only resent the fact that I unintentionally “called it.”
The rest of the trip went fine thankfully, we got my car at the gas station and I led them to my place, which was another 45 minutes north. By the time we pulled into the driveway, I had been gone over 12 hours! Holy moley. The cattle unloaded easey peasey, such calm beasts. They weren’t wide eyed with fright like the steers had been, they just sauntered into the pavillion and began eating hay, then went to the water tub and drank it dry, so I refilled it, got a beer and relaxed with them. Look at those big bellies!
There are many different “styles” of Highlands, and I seem to have amassed a nice variety pack, every single one looks so different and I like that aesthically, it indicates genetic diversity as well. Last night Andrew came to look at them and said “those are not pure.” Ok, well, that’s not helpful and actually not important to me. They are healthy and beautiful, regardless of whether they are “pure” or not. I am not breeding for shows or registries, just healthy and happy cows that thrive on pasture and hay alone.
I’m happy to report this morning the 3 new arrivals were still in the receiving pen, unlike my wild steers! I gave them another bale of hay, those are some hungry mommas! After I caught up on eggs, I reconfigured the electric fence so my first three can come up to the fence with the new three (or should I say 5? Best not to count those calves til they arrive safely into the world.) Ochre, Nillo and Lola have been staying up in the birch grove during the daytime heat and typically only come to their water tank in the evening, so they haven’t even seen that there are new cows here yet. May May is still running the show, as you can see.
Tonight will be exciting to see how they respond to each other. I think tomorrow I might merge them, depending on how the “meeting” goes tonight. The bull’s name is Boon, he’s very self assured but came to eat grass out of my hand. He is just so gorgeous!
The cows are a bit more timid, but still very very calm. I think this is more him bossing them, than them not wanting to come say hi. I think the larger cow will be called Ruby and one will be another orangey red color name, just waiting for the perfect one to come to me. ( I just went out to look at her and the name Clementine popped right up! So there you go, Ruby and Clementine and Lola, the beginning of my long range Highland herd!)
This pic of Lola is from back in late May. Mel was weeding in the garlic and Lola and I took a walk to visit her, Lola then found Mel’s rain jacket on the ground and rubbed her head on it and inadvertently displayed her coat-rack skills. Haa!