Okay, so not long ago we had a cattle drive…
We moved about fifty cows and their calves out of the upper field, down our driveway and into the lower trail fields.
But first, I need to preface this story by saying that the night prior to us moving the cattle, Julia was in bed reading with her light on. It was a little after 11 ‘o clock.
She sees a spider on her ceiling.
So, my nineteen-year-old daughter calls her twelve-year-old sister who is sleeping in the barn (because I’m a terrible mom and that’s where I make her sleep. Kidding. The youngest two girls have their tent set up in the barn and that’s pretty much where they’ve moved over the summer) and asks her to get up, come in the house and kill the spider on her ceiling.
Julia grew up with three older brothers and she might be a little bit of a princess.
Anyway, I was sleeping in the next room, but I’m pretty sure Julia didn’t call me because not only do I become incoherent after nine pm, but if I did manage to sleepwalk into her room, I’d definitely be awake enough to mess with her. As in:
Me: Which spider did you want killed?
Julia: The one on the ceiling. Wait?!? There’s another one???? WHERE?!?!?
Me: Just that one with the really big eyes that’s crawling on your headboard next to your hea-wait, never mind. It just crawled into your hair and I can’t see it anymore. Guess I’ll just get this one on the ceiling.
Yeah. So anyway, my youngest daughter came into the house and killed the spider for Jules.
So, the next day, we were up pretty early because we wanted to move the cattle before it got too hot.
The youngest daughter was supposed to shut the lower gate, then join Julia and I who were getting all the calves up and moved around so they’d follow their moms. Our middle daughter was blocking the driveway where they needed to turn and Watson would be at the gate in the upper pasture calling the cows as soon as Julia and I were ready.
There’s about three acres of woods in that pasture that surrounds a huge, deep gully. There’s a spring at the bottom, downed trees crossed every which way all the way up and it’s almost impossible to walk through.
I let Julia off to chase the cows and calves out of the woods while I go around the other side to get the dozen or so cows who were over there. I’m on the four-wheeler and I’m doing pretty good until Texas (nickname: Tubby) sees her calf get away from me and make a bee line for the woods.
Next thing you know, Tubby puts her head down and leads all twelve of those cows into the trees and I’m in the field by myself.
My phone rings and it’s Julia.
Me: Yeah? (I’m trying to sound innocent.)
Julia: A whole bunch of cows just came into the woods from your side. I thought we were chasing them OUT of the woods, not in.
Me: Yeah. That’s right.
Julia: (Sighs) There’s a cow in the gully and she won’t come out. I think she’s going to have a calf.
Me: I don’t think there are any cows in this herd who are supposed to calve before September.
Julia: She won’t get out. You need to come around and help me.
Well, my cows were in the woods, so I figured I might as well run around the other side and see if maybe she would be able to head them off and they’d head out the top and not down into the gully.
So, I get over to the other side. Julia is deep in the gully, right on the other side of some heavy brush, crawling over fallen trees and closing in on this black cow who has her back to a sheer bank and is standing, facing Julia and shaking her head.
I’m above the gully looking in at the back of the cow and this is what I see: a snake pit.
Not literally, but I don’t know if I’ve mentioned that on our farm, at least, in Virginia, I see more snakes in a month than I’ve seen in Pennsylvania in my entire life.
Copperheads are especially prolific here.
“Mom, aren’t you coming down to help?” Julia calls up.
Um…Julia is tramping around in what looks like prime Copperhead territory, and I’m sorry.
“No. I think you’re right. That cow is really acting like she wants to have a calf.” (Full disclosure. That cow is 116A, and some of you might remember her calf is the one that drowned in the creek in January this year. She’s in no more danger of having a calf today than I am, but I was speaking the truth, because with her shaking her head and facing Julia, she really was kind of acting like it.)
Julia looks up at me. “So what should we do?”
“We’re gonna leave her here.”
“What’s dad going to say about that? Don’t you think you ought to check with him?”
(Watson would want me to go into the snake pit and get the cow out.) “Nope. I’m making the executive decision. Get out of there.” My eyes are scanning the ground at her feet (at least she was wearing boots. I had flip flops on.) looking for anything that moved. I’m watching as she goes up the gully, around the sheer cliff, climbs around some brambles and a couple of downed trees and bear-crawls up the last ten feet. (This is the girl who called her sister out of bed last night to kill a spider for her. Man.)
I just want to say, once that cow realizes all her friends have left her, she’ll get herself out of that gully and let the world know she wants to go wherever they are.
The rest of the cows have made it out of the woods, we account for all the calves and Watson starts calling them.
Our cattle drive goes fairly easily – all the cows go to the gate, we open it, they walk down the driveway, and right into the upper gate of their new pasture.
We all sit at the gate for a couple of minutes, smiling and laughing and talking about how easy it was.
Our middle daughter notices that the cows seem to be following the fence down the driveway.
“That’s okay,” Watson says. “I told her to close the bottom gate.” He nods at our youngest daughter.
Ha. We both see the look on her face turn into horror.
The smile slips from Watson’s face. “You shut it, right?”
Our daughter is looking a little green. She says, “I’ll be right back.”
She takes off on the four-wheeler, while the rest of us try to figure out how many cows had enough time to go in the upper gate and out the lower one.
My phone rings.
“Mom, can you come down here fast, please?”
I laugh. That is exactly the kind of thing that I would do. This is also exactly the kind of thing that Watson has been putting up with me doing for several decades and he looks a little irritated. (Like it’s my fault that the kid takes after me. Goodness.)
Watson is looking at me, but I don’t say anything. I start my four-wheeler, Julia and my middle daughter hop on and we fly down the driveway.
Turns out all but about ten cows had enough time to walk down the fence and walk out the open gate. They got back on the driveway and were now spread out in our front and back yard and in the area in front of our barn.
At least there was no wedding planned at our barn for later that day like there was the last time the cows got out in the yard.
There are fences around everything, though, so they were contained, and it only took fifteen minutes or so for us to gather them up and get them back in.
The last cow walks in and Watson shuts the gate himself.
NOW we can laugh at how easy it was to move the cows. (And I have to hug my youngest daughter because she’s criggling because she did shut a gate, she just misunderstood which gate Watson meant when he’d told her to shut one.)