SF Blog: The Cattle Are Out!
I doubt that I’ll ever be able to see cattle in a pasture without slipping into a mild panic and yelling, “The cattle are out again!” I’m not the only one in my family who has this reaction, either, not after an incident that occurred on a September day a couple of years ago.
My younger brother, Trever, was standing in a feed bunk of his recently completed cattle building, scooping feed forward so it would be within easy reach of his 98 newly weaned calves, when he slipped and fell. The scoop shovel made an ear-splitting noise as it hit the bunk, spooking the cattle. The 500-pound calves ran at the gate, broke the chain, and bolted out of the building.
Unharmed (fortunately), Trever managed to stop around 20 calves from escaping and started yelling, “The cattle are out!” My parents, already outside, ran toward the cattle building expecting to find a few loose calves. Instead, they witnessed nearly 80 calves in a full-speed stampede going down the road.
On ATVs and four-wheelers, they raced ahead and tried to turn the calves toward home. Instead of turning, the calves split in two directions – half the herd continuing south, and the rest taking Toby Keith’s advice to heart and heading west. They continued to break off into smaller groups and went to nearby fields.
Fortunately, my family lives in a tight-knit, rural community that pulls together and is always willing to help when needed. The calvary, consisting of neighbors, relatives, and friends, showed up to help. Volunteers showed up on foot, with ATVs, on horseback, and with dogs. To get a bird’s-eye-view, we went up in a plane and helicopter to help direct people on the ground.
At $3 a pound, at the time, they desperately wanted to catch them. Besides the money factor, loose cattle have some major repercussions including damage to crops, driving hazards, and the overall health concerns for the cattle.
At this point in the year, the crops weren’t quite mature yet. Had harvest been over, it would’ve been difficult for the cattle to play their time-consuming game of hide-and-seek in cornfields. As it was, with corn still standing in the fields, it was nearly impossible to see a calf that was three rows away from you, let alone 30 feet. The beans weren’t any easier to search when the calves decided to lie down. We would easily spend the better part of an hour walking through a soybean field before stumbling across two. It was always a toss-up of who was more surprised by the encounter – the calf or the searcher.
Several people enjoyed the rodeo. My grandpa was one of them. He drove his gator around the majority of the time, and only started wearing his seatbelt after throwing himself off of it twice from turning too sharply in attempts to cut off calves. I saw my life flash before my eyes when he came within inches of running me over when I was on foot try trying to help corral a calf.
It also became clear that my brother and his friends don’t have bull-riding careers in their futures. While riding in an ATV alongside a calf, Trever grabbed the calf's tail, with what I presume was the expectation of stopping it. Instead, he was pulled out of the ATV. With Trever still holding on, his friend, who was riding in the back of the ATV, jumped out – either in an attempt to help or not be outdone – and landed on the calf. With the calf still running, the friend slid down the calf's back and grabbed ahold of the tail. At this point he’s on top of Trever. A third friend ran up and pinched the calf in the nostrils, and that brought the calf to a stop. In a final act of defiance, after being roped, the calf head-butted a fourth volunteer, knocking him to the ground.
Miraculously, most of the cattle were caught in the same weekend they got out. Throughout the following weeks, neighbors would call with sightings of the stragglers. When those phone calls came, we dropped everything we were doing, hooked up to the trailer and went to catch the calf. A few calves made it easy by roaming to nearby pastures, and a couple others found their way home. The very last calf was caught on Thanksgiving, and that was certainly something to be thankful for.
Now there’s a second fence that remains locked on the outer perimeter of the cattle barn – just in case of another jailbreak.