So, right after I hit “publish” on the last blog post, my 1st three Highlands came up to check out the newbies. They were interested but rather indifferent about each other. No banging heads through the fence or anything like that. I wanted to take my time before merging them and make sure the newbies knew this was indeed their new home before letting them out of the “receiving corral.” They were calm in there, so very calm, but eating lots of last years remaining hay. I really wanted to get them out on the pasture so the cows could feed their growing babies on the lush and diverse pastures and the bull could keep nourishing his gigantic body with fresh greenery. I was most nervous about letting out Boon, the the bull. He is so massive, and although remarkably mellow, I was worried he would maybe take over the pasture and keep me from the herd, or run through the fence in a bullish fit.
Yesterday I decided it was the day to merge. So far all of my cow activity has been about trusting my gut feeling so I double checked the fence was high voltage with the electric fence tester after finishing eggs, and then opened their gate. The three newbies were elated and eagerly began grazing like crazy. I watched with trepidation as they came close to the fence wire and grazed under the line a bit, but they didn’t crash it over or leap or anything like that. I saw Clementine get zapped once. It was about 1pm, which is normally chill time for cows in this weather, when they’d normally be laying in the shade chewing their cud, waiting for the heat of the day to pass. I figured my three other highlands would stay up in their birch grove resting, allowing for the newbies to have some time to get used to this new fence and fill their bellies up before they all actually mingled. Bringing cows together can be eventful, to say the least, from what I researched and had heard. The boss has to be established. I was nervous about how this would go, and thought I had this all pretty well planned out and my gut was telling me it was the day, so…. Then I spotted Lola emerging from the birch grove, posture alert, ears up and staring in our direction. Then she began quickly striding her way over, down the hill with her two steer buddies right behind. The greeting committee was a bit ahead of schedule, oh boy.
When the bull saw them coming, he made the craziest strangely quiet guttural deep burp/moo sound. As the three approached him, he squared up like a patriotic soldier and faced his side to them, standing as still as a statue. I held my breath, what was going to happen? The steers were all up in his business, literally sniffing his bum and his junk. May was there too, the crazy goat who does not know her size for one second. Made of pure confidence, she went up to the bull and smelled his junk too. He stood completely still. But then Nillo did something unnoticeable by me that he didn’t like, and he swung at him, nothing too dramatic, more of an “I’M the BOSS” gesture. Then they all stood there for like ten minutes. The bull pawed the ground, just like you see in bull fighting. It was exhilarating, but terrifying. Was he going to kill the steers? Pin them to the ground and gore them? I could see him watching them, the whites of his eyes glinting in the bright mid day sun. But he just stood there. The steers got bored with this, and showed their submissiveness to him by leaving and going to investigate the 2 cows. Ruby, who is older, seemed to care less, although she did take a swing with her horns at Lola’s approach. Clementine, though, she is feisty and she locked horns with Nillo several times, pushing him back and winning the ranking over him. There were a few running spurts as the steers wheeled away from the bull’s stoic stare. And then, after an hour or so, just like that, they all settled into being together, grazing. Awwwww.
The bull was very investigative of his surroundings, so he walked down the fence line and discovered how big the pasture was. The herd followed him, and then “his” 2 big preggos went into the shade of the brush, happily eating leaves and cooling off. When he looked back and didn’t know where they were, I beheld my next awesome cow experience, as he called for them. A lonesome, deep and mournful sounding beckoning. They did not come to him. Poor guy, he strode through the brush, searching and then he spotted Ruby’s rump sticking out of the brush and showed me how happy he was by “horning” a little apple tree. I stood and watched him as he wrangled the lower limb, and I thought well there goes that harvest, then remembered it is not even a “good” apple tree, so no biggie. But as he rubbed his horns, he started spiraling the branch around and around, and suddenly it swung low and wrapped itself in the electric fence wire, which then went OVER his body. He was not only not inside the fence now, but had a zapping wire shorting out ON him. Oh shit, oh shit. I grabbed a step-in fence post (these weak little things I use for the electric wire) and knowing I was going to be zapped and not caring, I just quickly pulled it off him using the rod. It worked. I pulled the fence wire farther away from the tree. Shee-it, that was scary!
Through the day I kept going to check on them every half hour, to see where they were, and to make sure the fence was not pulled off or shorting out somewhere. What can I say, I am a careful new cow momma! Boon and the original three were way in the top part of the five acre paddock at 5pm, the preggos had elected to stay put in the low cool spot and chew their cud. Both Ruby and Clementine just stare at me with an easy manner; curious, but not threatened, or threatening. As I cooed at Ruby, who is just so beautiful, her eyes were kind of half closed, jaws in a constant and slow moving repetitive chewing motion. Chewing cud appears to be a state of cow meditation. Then all of a sudden her head jerked up, eyes wide. I looked to see what she was seeing, and to my horror, there was a giant BLACK BEAR walking down the road, right across from us. At first I thought it was my old dog Javi, (RIP), he would always patrol what I was doing by irritatingly walking down the road and watching from a distance, and he was black as midnight, like this bear. But I saw the bear’s upturned nose, just like in a nature show, he was sniffing the region as he casually strolled down the blacktop. WTF! I leapt to action, I yelled and ran in the direction of the bear, ducking under the electric fence and running through the chest high goldenrod, into the ditch and out onto to the road. He was gone into the 40 acres of woods across the road, and I was freaked!!!! I don’t think a black bear would stand a chance against a Highland, but I don’t want to find out.
At my last check on the cows last night around 9:30 pm, after a torrential rain storm had came and went, the whole area was filled with an eery fog as the hot air met the cooling effect of the rain. Boon and the original three were still industriously grazing in that top section of the paddock, but Ruby and Clementine weren’t with them. They had gotten about half way up but couldn’t see where the rest of the herd was. I tried to guide them towards the others, and then Boon saw them. What proceeded to happen made my heart sing with happiness. He mooed, and then he mooooooooooed. Then he called to them a long bellow moo sound over and over as they went to reunite with him. I can’t describe it, it was just so gorgeous to witness. He’d not known where they had been and was just SO happy to see them again. Amazing. I felt to honored to witness such almost prehistoric behavior. Dang, these cows are just so awesome.
I am so in love with cows, it is ridiculous. I love watching them, I love that they eat grass. I love their bigness, I love their horns and the gorgeous colors. I love what they do for the microbiology of the soil life, and that they sequester carbon by simply walking. I love that they keep me active and limber, going on fence walks to make sure the electric line is still intact a couple times a day, ducking under the fence wire many times is good for my back and legs. I love seeing them grazing out on the slope where previously there was just a plain, un-nourished wild field. If you are thinking about getting cows, listen to this podcast, it is so informational and exciting and encouraging. Last summer as I dreamed of cows, I listened to it like 5 times. I learned so much this Greg Judy presentation, even without being there and seeing what he was showing, he explains it all in words and enthusiasm. I’m not mob grazing this year, but rotational grazing. Mob grazing is high density stocking and daily (or more often) moves. My cows are so new to me and two of them are very skittish (the steers,) and I am also new to designing and setting up electric fence, so I am content right now to give them a big paddock and let them eat, and then move them after a week or so. So, it’s good, but not perfect yet. Baby steps as I learn. But I researched and I did it, and it is going so far, so awesome. Yay cows!!!
Nothing like a duck egg breakfast for Farmer Khaiti fuel:
The garden Mel and Yola installed is going CRAZY! Duck poop is a wonder fertilizer! I have never had a garden this lush and beautiful. Gonna start freezing greens this week for winter use, after I finish processing the garlic scapes.