Friday, January 17, 2014

Midnight cattle roundup

It’s 9 pm on Thursday night. Bedtime for me. I’m an early riser – I have some early morning commitments – so 9 pm bedtime is pretty routine. Except tonight we have some cows mooing.

We currently have sixteen head of cattle. The usual state of affairs here in the evening is to put Matilda and her calf Amy into the barn at night (this evening I put Amy into a separate pen since I plan to milk Matilda in the morning). We have three animals in the bullpen – Samson, Jet, and Tarter. That leaves eleven mixed cows and calves loose in the feedlot. We don’t close off the feedlot at night, so this means the animals also have access to the corral (where the water tank is located) and the woods.

When cattle holler, it usually means something is agitating them. Just like you know the difference between your dog’s let’s-play bark and someone-is-at-the-door bark, you can sort of tell what’s wrong with cattle by the tenor of their vocalization. Tonight it was I’ve-lost-my-calf.

I took a flashlight and took a quick glance around the feedlot and corral and saw nothing alarming, so I went to bed.

And tossed. And turned. And listened. And tossed some more. And turned some more. The cattle kept bellowing. I lay tense in the bed, trying to track critters from the sounds of their moos. I dozed off once or twice to the serenade of cows yelling and kept having short little vignette dreams of cattle escaping.

Finally at 11:45 pm I’d had enough. I got up, got dressed, and went downstairs where Don was just finishing a shower and getting ready to come to bed. We both took flashlights and started counting heads. The ground was frozen, the sky was clear, and a full moon made the flashlights almost unnecessary.

Everyone was making noise. Everyone was saying "I’ve lost my calf." But here’s the thing: most of the cows had their calves with them. We found three strays on the edge of the woods and we herded them into the feedlot. Then Ruby escaped and went trotting into the corral, bellowing, apparently looking for her calf... despite the fact that her calf was under the awning in the feedlot. Arrgghh. What was WRONG with everyone tonight?

We counted and counted and counted again. Everyone was present and accounted for, so we locked the whole stinkin’ herd into the feedlot (except Matilda and Amy, who were safely in the barn) and went back inside. And everyone is STILL out there, yelling.

It’s 12:35 am as I write this and I’m much too wired to sleep. In fact, I’m completely stinkin’ pissed and ready to turn the whole herd into hamburger. Anyone wanna buy some meat? Cheap?

Country living. Not always what it’s cracked up to be.

Now SHADDUP ALREADY.  You're gonna wake the neighbors.

UPDATE: Well, it's 5:30 am and I've been up since 4:45 am. But at least the cattle mystery is solved.

You see, it WASN'T Matilda's calf Amy that we had separated last night. It was Ruby's calf Alice. Let's face it, dark calves all look pretty much the same by moonlight and flashlight, and this mix-up explains a number of things (not least the reason why Ruby and Matilda and their respective calves kept bellowing all night long).

Cows are creatures of habit, and when Matilda went into the barn and a calf went with her, I assumed it was her calf. But no, Amy was having an adolescent moment and on a lark decided to stay in the feedlot. Meanwhile Alice was also have an adolescent moment and decided to follow the patient Matilda into the barn to see what the attraction was. But at late dusk, Alice was skittish when I tried to close the barn door and so I had to enlist the help of both Don and Older Daughter to help shoo her in.

When I plan to milk Matilda, usually I'll give Matilda and Amy a couple hours together in the barn before putting Amy into a separate pen (a task done after dark by flashlight). Amy is used to this routine and normally just trots into the pen when I open the gate. But last night, "Amy" ricocheted around the barn in panic when I went in to put her away for the night. "Sheesh, what's gotten into you?" I remember muttering, but didn't give it much thought once I got her into the pen and the gate was shut.

Thus commenced our night of cow bellowing. No wonder Ruby and Matilda were both so agitated and noisy. No wonder we kept hearing calves yelling.

I finally got to sleep around 2 am, but then at 4:45 the dogs -- triggered by an unusually vigorous session of outside noise -- started barking. I gave up trying to sleep and got dressed. The noise from the barn and feedlot hadn't ceased, and I wondered why on earth Matilda (normally a placid, patient gal) was just as agitated as the outside cattle. Unless...

Unless it wasn't her calf in the pen beside her.

Crud. I can only ascribe this night's sleeplessness to "operator error." It wasn't the cows' fault that I got their calves mixed up. So at 4:55 am this morning by the light of the westerly moon, I opened the gate to the feedlot, opened the barn door, released Alice from the pen, and voilà -- the noise miraculously ceased. Haven't heard a peep since.

So I'm posting this on about 2.5 hours of sleep. We have some friends visiting today, and I can only hope Jessica will forgive my mental dullness and the dark circles under my eyes.

No fresh milk today. I'll try again tomorrow and hope I get the right calf in the pen.


  1. I sense a conspiracy to keep you from milking Matilda in the morning. I have faith you will overcome the evil cow disruption.

  2. Ba ha ha ha ha! Sorry Patrice. I hope you finally get to sleep. Dumb cows. That's like here our dogs will bark at night and keep some people in my house awake, but they never keep me from sleeping. I like knowing they're protecting our family at night.

  3. Maybe a moon phase thing ? we couldn't sleep here and the dogs kept barking half the night , feeling agitated .

  4. Pissed? Wow! You really did get a good mad on didn't you? Don't think I've ever seen you say that! :-) Hope you finally cooled off and got some sleep. I can't sleep when I'm "stinkin' pissed" either.

  5. I really thought this would have a more satisfying ending. :) I hope you got some rest.

    1. a satisfying update! I'm sorry for your trouble, but at least it's an entertaining story to tell your guests.

  6. Doesn't that bellow in the night send shivers up your spine. You lay there and think, it'll go away. We've had cows bellerin' in the fog, in the bush, in the crick. My condolences.

  7. Oh man, I feel your pain, and at the same time this is hilarious. SOMEDAY you will laugh about it.

  8. Seen your blog over at Frank and Ferns.
    As I was reading your post, you had my empathy! Sometime is just ain't easy!

  9. I liked the point that you made that the moos didn't sound right. I too can tell when our dogs are barking at a critter and when someone turn into the driveway. They are simply a different sound. I sleep with a white noise machine so that I will not hear the dogs when a critter comes to visit. It does keep me from hearing the intruder alert as well but we have only had one late night visitor in the last 5 years and my wife was up that time. I love the way you tell us of all the happenings on the homestead the good the bad and the ugly.

  10. I know I shouldn't be laughing....but I am...well maybe it's just a little giggle...

    And I'm very relieved.

    All through the first part of the story I kept pushing away the nagging thought of coyotes....projection, no doubt, since they've been lurking around here recently. lol

    Hope you have a relatively easy day and can turn in early tonight.

    The great calf mixup....I bet it won't happen again!

    A. McSp

  11. Hah! Self inflicted mooing! Good thing the cloven hooved beasties can't type. Imagine what they would be commenting about the silly human feeding people that can't tell our babies apart, lol...

  12. reCattle do get a regular schedule and odds things can get them agitated but i can so relate to the mix up. I used to have 45 oof black cattle....all safely tagged. 1 calf lost her tag and she belonged to Grace who i used to milk like you do...lock the cow and calf in separate pens, snitch milk in the AM. I went through a mooing night...hey Graces calf had no tag right? Right! Nope I out Candy's calf [who had just lost her tag] in the barn with Grace! Now I feel so much better for the confession! Thank you so much for your tale of Mooing in the night!

  13. This is up there with the great James Herriot stories! Thanks for sharing and I hope you catch up on your sleep tonight.

  14. We have sheep. At this time of year, it means that really plummeting temperatures, freezing rain, hurricane winds/northeasters, any crummy lousy weather is perfect for lambing. Outside on a sheet on ice. My husband works a full time job, but during this time of year will check on the sheep throughout the night. Poor guy is bleary-eyed.

    They are not the smartest thing on four hooves, and get stuck on their backs (that will kill them if we do not get them back up), jammed in places they shouldn't be, and enjoy getting out of the designated pasture (our six acres are divided into pasture areas that include the front "lawn") to where they shouldn't be-the grass is always greener on the other side. Sometimes it is a challenge to figure out just where they are getting out. Then there is the rejected lamb. Right now he is in the house in my laundry area. When he's hungry he doesn't shut up. Feed them too much and you sleep, but you will suffer the consequences later with digestion. True confessions. No, it doesn't smell providing you keep up with paper and hay. And yes, I am behind in the wash.

    1. Sheep here, too. If there is one night of freezing, wet, thunderstorm with tornadic activity bad weather amidst springlike lovely warm weather the rest of the week, well, that bad weather day is going to be the day the lambs are born.

  15. We are bottle feeding 7 calves. Five of them are jet black.... ear tags are going in this weekend!