I had planned the mid afternoon cow checking with plenty of time to spare. But the best of plans are often laid to waste by cattle. First there had been the calves out in the wheat. I chased with the pickup and chased on foot. They had mostly gone back to their calling mothers. Walking through the electric fence as though it wasn’t even there.
Trailing the last two down the fence I had the opportunity to check the fence all the way along. The place where the electric wire had been twisted with the barb wire explained a large part of the problem. The calves trailed on past clear to the gate. Racing ahead I was able to open the gate and allow the calves back in.
All the mama cows and their calves had come along for the walk. They would like out the gate please. They may have plenty of grass and the weather is holding but they know when it’s time to go home and the date has come if not the need.
Unfortunately, I needed to get in the gate.
My two biggest pets, or pests, were in the front of the bunch at the gate wanting to visit. I threw cake on the ground off to the side then ran as fast as I could to get the pickup through the gate. Then made a mad dash back to get it closed. I squared off nose to nose with one old girl who was sure she should get to go out. Then I latched the gate behind me.
Then the float needed adjusted. And the trip across the pasture was long and bouncy. By the time I got through the cows and checked all tanks it was nearly dark.
Just one last thing to check.
The cows had been rubbing my woven wire fence down around the old house. A brave few had let themselves in and wandered about. There is a cellar under one part of it. Cattle have died falling in there. I needed to make sure my fence was holding.
If I left now I would have time to get to town and pick up my child on time. If I left the fence as it was one of the cows could die. So I walked back to the pickup for a post to set. I was going to be late and it was going to be dark. So be it.
I love the old house. I would live there if I could. It is a happy friendly place.
But it was nearly dark. If nothing else there were coyotes to worry about. Probably not mountain lions. Not likely at least. I don’t believe in ghosts. There was nothing else to worry about.
Up against the rapidly darkening interior I couldn’t stop myself from peering through the holes in the ceiling above me. Nothing peered back.
I set the post, attached wire clips. and peered into the dark interior. Nothing peered around doorways looking back at me.
The lack of company didn’t leave me any less jumpy. I peeked around the side of the house, under the big tree, to check for more places the cows could get in of course. Nothing there.
In the gathering darkness I looked back at the house one last time as I passed through the gate. Admitting some hope for a farewell wave from an empty window.
The house held as tight as ever to the secrets of its past. If anyone waved farewell they didn’t show themselves. I said my good byes and rushed across the dark pasture towards town.
It was surprising to see so many swooping and diving in the yard. After that brief moment of surprise I realized they couldn’t be birds. They were dragon flies!
Huge and black they filled the air space of the yard. Enough that I would be scared to walk through the middle.
The children came out briefly when I called them to come see. My husband stayed longer. Our patience was rewarded as we noticed the small bugs. Golden brown they glowed nearly golden in the setting sun. They seemed to be hatching? They were flying up from the grass of the yard, hundreds of them. We could see them as they came up. If we looked close. Then we would see a dragon fly swoop towards them and snatch them out of the air. Occasionally one would slip past the gathered hoard and find its way to freedom.
It’s always fun to see all the dragon flies. I know, in abstract, that they are wonderful for controlling mosquitoes and other insects. To get to see them swoop down and attack, to hear the occasional clatter of wings as they crash together as two go after the same bug, it brings the abstract to reality.
With the fourwheeler shut off the silence echoed in my ears. It was overwhelming, nearly deafening. The absolute lack of sound came as a shock. We get so used to noise in our modern lives. The hum of electronics, radios droning on, people, vehicles. I stood for a moment and listened. I remember thinking how there wasn’t even wind through the few scraggly trees.
It’s my favorite old house. The one I would choose to live in if I could pick any of the houses on the place.The practicalities of modern living make that impossible of course. As much as the completely fallen down state of the house. There’s no road in, no electricity, no hope of internet. Just a house sat out in the middle of a pasture. The roof is gone. So is the floor. Walking upstairs would be suicide, even though the stairs are technically there.
Not too long ago the carcass of a yearling bull had hung from the floor joists. He had found his way in through a missing wall or maybe the door. A part of the house has a cellar. The floor wasn’t enough to hold his weight. With front and hind legs on opposite sides of the joist I will hope that his back was broke when the legs went through. If not, he hung there until he died, fragments of skin held the skeleton there as a grim reminder not to take chances with a falling down house.
Now his bones shine white under the house.
Shaking off the eerie stillness I went back to work. My job was to keep any more cattle from sharing the young bulls fate. We wanted to make use of the grass growing around the house, but keep cattle out of the house. One wall is gone and one door easily accessible. I had to fence them out. Walking about the house, hammering and stretching wire, I looked down and saw a penny! Picking it up I recognized a design no longer used. Peering through the pattena I thought I saw 1929. Excited by my find, but busy at work, I slipped it into my pocket, it could be cleaned up and inspected closer when I was done.
As I nailed wire to the house bits of plaster and dirt rained down on my head. It made me keep a wary eye out above. As the walls begin to bulge out at odd angles it’s easy to imagine the whole thing coming down on my head. More and more pieces of trim and eaves are being scattered across the ground with every wind storm. This beautiful old house only has a short time left. There’s not enough left there to save.
Once home I was telling my husband about fencing out the house. About the silence there. How everywhere else I traveled through the day, fixing fence and moving cattle there had been the noise of wind, cattle lowing, distant traffic. But not there. There had been silence.
Which reminded me of my penny!
Excitedly I dug into my pocket to show him. Searching the depths I found only lint. Then the other pockets just to be sure. Nothing.
The Goblin Child was playing with one of the calves when I got there. Laughing and giggling as her fingers got sucked on, she was as happy as the kids always are to play with calves. Once I finally forced the children out there.
We laughed and talked about how cute and gross the calves are for a bit. Then I looked at the rest of them. My count came up short one. A second and third count showed the same. With two gates to get through to get out of the barn it didn’t seem possible. We searched the barn. Then counted again. Still one short.
Outside I sent the kids to walk through the tree row while I drove a 4wheeler to look across the big open fields. Maybe he had just gotten out and would be visible as he ran across one.
I knew exactly which calf it was. They had all gotten ear tags the night before. We had named this one Styx. This morning he had refused a bottle. His voice was hoarse from calling for his mom. Not being able to raise him didn’t mean she hadn’t been a good mom, while she did have him. He wanted her back. Of all the calves he was the one who wasn’t beginning to recognize us as the food source and a good thing.
I was positive he was long gone. Running the way scared calves do, blindly and full out.
It made me sick. I knew it was all my fault, no blaming the kids on this one. After feeding I had carried the feeder out of the barn, then gotten caught up in other things. I was the one who hadn’t remembered to carefully lock both the gates.
We searched all morning. I spent the time asking God to take care of of the poor little calf. Whether that meant us finding him or him finding a herd of cows. He didn’t deserve this. Then we had to leave, go to town. Hurrying home we searched the rest of the afternoon. Not that we had any chance of seeing him if he was laying in the yard. A small black calf in a shaded spot would be as invisible as nature intended them to be. Hidden from us as well as predators. In cooler weather a calf can hide for a couple of days and live.
In this heat, without having had breakfast for sure, maybe no supper the night before, he had little hope. Laying in shade, maybe. If he had taken off running, not a chance. Maybe Styx was a bad name choice.
That evening we took milk out to the remaining calves. Finally accepting the smaller number, we mixed enough milk for what was left. They slurped happily at their milk. The children squealed and giggled as calves chased them around wanting a bottle. The ruckus was loud and enthusiastic. Then I had to step out the barn door for some reason.
Out the door I happened to glance up, and there was a calf in the middle of the drive!
It took a bit of looking to realize it was indeed a calf. Then my beleaguered brain had to spend some time trying to figure out how another one of the calves from the barn could have gotten outside. It was a few moments before I realized this was our missing calf!
All day while we drove all over, while we walked through the trees, while we had to have walked right past him a few times, he had been laying there. Perfectly still he blended and stayed invisible, just like calves are supposed to do. It must have been the sound of the other calves getting their meal that drew him out of hiding.
He was curious, but not brave enough to come up to me.
I yelled for a child to come help. Then sent him around behind the calf, to help push him towards me. We herded the calf towards the door to the barn. The calf shot out the side. We cornered him against a gate. My soon opened the gate. I tried to push the calf through.
The calf couldn’t resist the bottle any longer. He latched on and was not letting go.
We lead him back into the barn to join the others. His reluctance to eat from the bottle was gone. He was starving. The bottle got handed to a child while I ran into the house for more milk. Our prodigal son had returned.
The kids and I swung by the pasture to check the tank on our way to town. We only had a few minutes because, as usual, we were running later than I had hoped and we didn’t want to be late for an eye doctor appointment! As we got the salt put out I looked at the cows grazing in the not to far distance and thought I saw too many hanger downers 😉
There were two of the bulls. But a couple other cattle standing next to them also had the tuft of fur under the belly. That didn’t seem right.
I checked my watched, contemplated the length of the drive we still had and decided there was enough time to walk over to the bunch. Once I got over there there were way to many cattle with hanger downers. Yearling steers. Yay. That meant the neighbor had cattle out. I would need to get a hold of someone. But first we had to get to our appointment. We were going to be late.
In town I texted around and got numbers for the suspected owners. Called one, the father, and left a message. Then got the number of the son and texted.
The son answered immediately. The response made me so made I had to sit and think a bit before responding. Always best not to text mad 😉
He said “Probably ours, went around fence, but your half was not great. We fixed it up some, but needs a lot of posts. We are out of town until tomorrow but will get it then. ”
Now I’ve dealt with these people before. I’ve been out there fixing fence on miserably hot days because they told my husbands father the same thing and he said oh ok, or some such. Then ordered us out to fix fence for the neighbors. Knowing what they are like I was extra careful when I went over that fence line. I wasn’t having it. I informed him the fence had been fine thank you. Very politely of course. He didn’t respond.
The father called me back as we went through walmart. He was very polite, until he started in on it too. Figured out who I was and which of their pastures I was talking about, which took awhile. Then said they’d get to it once they got back from vacation. But, you know, that fence isn’t very good between us. I wasn’t having it. I was already pretty grouchy after talking to the son. My children had chosen that moment to start a brawl in the aisle. I grabbed handfuls of what ever I could get, hair, and yanked them apart. Giving them my best knock it off or I will beat you look I sent them cowering apart. Then smiled, because it can be heard in your voice and told him, nope, the fence was good, I walked it and have been checking it. We chatted a bit more and he started in again!
You know, your fence between us….
Nope! If he wanted to repeat himself I could repeat myself. I thought a moment about the absurdity of it then decided I could do it as many times as he could. And we did. There in the middle of walmart with a smile fixed on my face, sobbing pouting children and people trying to get to the chips behind me. I held my ground and refused any reply except to restate that the fence was in great shape. Yealings can be hard to keep in, no one is mad at them but it was not the fences fault.
Seriously! Accept blame. Be polite, apologize for your cattle, and promise to come get them. I’ve been on that end of things before. It happens. Refusing to accept any responsibility is the behavior of a child. Grown men should know better.
The kids and I went over and took lunch to their father in the field where he was working summer fallow. Then we started driving the fence line.
There were way more than the few head I had seen earlier. It was really beginning to look like there were way more yearlings than pairs! A handful of them were in the summer fallow. They had torn the fence down between it and the pasture. We put it up and, after careful consideration, I texted the son again. Let him know that we had a bunch more than originally thought and some didn’t have water.
He texted back that they’d be there this evening. Then started insisting that I didn’t need to be there to help with the sorting!
The more he insisted that I not come the more determined I was that I was going to be there. The way they had acted so far didn’t lead me to believe they would treat the cattle decently or sort thoroughly. I wanted to make sure my cows didn’t disappear or get run hard.
The kids and I loaded up the 4wheelers. There’s plenty of barb wire laying around I wouldn’t want to risk any horse’s legs.
We got there. Drove over and picked up my husband from the summer fallow. By the time we got back they were there. All two of them. They had been determined that two guys were going to sort fifty plus yearling out of the pairs by themselves? I had even been assured, in one of the many texts telling me not to come, that it would only take them a few minutes. They had high opinions of themselves. Or hadn’t believed me about the number of steers.
They took over issuing orders. Their yearlings, so fine. We sorted and pushed and sorted some more. It was actually going rather well. We were able to leave cows and calves behind as the herd walked towards the gate.
Then everything balled up and the easy sorting was done. Working hard we got a few more out. My son put in a good days work, real work not kid stuff, pushing cows we got out back to that herd and holding them there. Someday his kids will be as fascinated and horrified by his tales of life growing up on the farm as we are when my grandpa talked about driving the team farming by himself when he was five. If he was as dedicated and hard working as this boy I can see how he would have easily done the job. My husband worked the cattle on foot. My daughter and I ran around doing a bit of everything. Hopefully helpfully 😉 Daisy dog clung to the back of the fourwheeler.
With a few head left in the bunch it was decided that it would be easier to pull a couple of cows back out of their pasture than to sort where we were and the whole bunch was sent through the gate.
There they all took off at a hard run. The three of us took off after them. my husband had rejoined our son and were busy keeping cows in the pasture I think. I don’t know. We never looked back. Despite my determination not to let them run our cows hard there wasn’t much else to do at the moment but to keep up. We caught them before the draw and each took a cow. Either the guys did a better job chasing them, or they had easier cows. They got theirs back while we fought with ours
I think a 4wheeler should work cows like a horse. Stop and turn on a dime after them. Daisy was having a hard time holding on. My daughter was giggling hysterically with an arm around me and the other holding tight to Daisy. Back and fourth we cut that cow until she quite fighting and, somewhat, quietly went back to her pasture.
With that part done I begged my daughter to please take Daisy back to the pickup. This was hard on her and there was nothing she’d be able to help with. They got dropped off as close as possible to the pickup and they walked back with plenty of water holes and trees to play in along the way. Then we, my trusty green mount and I were back in the fray.
We had sorted part of the herd, but there were plenty more to work through. It took a couple of hours and lots of wear and tear on the 4wheelers but we did finally get all of the yearling steers out. The grass, which had looked good went from having another week or so of grazing to needing the cows moved soon. The cows were run hard. I can only imagine how hard they would have been run without us there. I pulled the father aside one time and told him to take it easy. I didn’t want the cows pushed that hard or to lose any calves. Not sure he actually herd me. Or listened. I had worked hard to avoid screaming when one of them took off after my old 524 cow. She’s the second oldest in my herd and a dang good cow. If they hadn’t backed off before I could react, well, I do seem to be a bit grouchy lately, I think I’d be willing to take a grown man 😉
There were yearlings coming back to the fence already as we finished and paused to talk a bit. Fortunately they didn’t say any more about how their cows being in our pasture was my fault. Of course they didn’t acknowledge me at all, only deigning to speak to my husband. Probably for the best. He has better control over his temper than I do.
They went down the fence line to chase their yearlings the other way. Their only concession to the trouble their calves had caused when the father said they’d be taking three or so of them back with them to a different pasture because they were high headed trouble causers. On his way to get the steer who was waiting right back where they had taken the whole fence down, he stopped and very self righteously put a staple in our fence. He had claimed it to be weak, falling down, and generally bad, guess he had to find something wrong with it. I hope that one staple made him feel better.
The weather was beautiful. Warm and not windy yet. We forced the kids away from tablets and computers. Without them the kids are really quite enjoyable.
Working with horses and doing chores around the place, we ended up out by the old school house barn. It is getting closer to falling down all the time and the kids are not allowed to play in or near it. They are very good about that. To the point that when I told 8 he could go in and look around while we were there together The Goblin Child said no, she was not going in there, and left.
Us two foolish people went in and explored. You’d think that after being explored for so many years it would no longer have secrets to give up. But still, we find more. As the children get bigger they can climb farther, see new things. 8 climbed an old stall divider and peered into the hay loft. He wanted my to have a look too. There were some ancient rotted hay bales and a tire. Mostly there is sunlight streaming through where a roof once was.
I was happy to oblige him and I climbed up and peered around too. There in the middle of the loft was a headstall. I could see a bit and some twisted leather remains. Right out in the middle where there was no way I was walking.
Climbing down I let 8 replace me. He spotted it and we spent some time locating it from below to see if there was a way to reach it that way. Quickly realizing the hopelessness of that we stopped to think about things.
A grappling hook! That was what we needed! Something we could throw out there, hook the bridle, and drag it back. But where would we find something like that? We headed back towards the house to search.
There we found The Goblin Child happily swinging. She may not be interested in going into the wreck of a barn just for fun, but the quest was more than she could resist. We all continued on together. Junk piles are a great resource. We scavenged through the trash and the scrap iron pile. Finally finding the perfect hunk of metal. Then to gather the rope that we use to tie cow legs back so calves can nurse. I wasn’t going to use my good rope for this! And back to the barn.
Each child got to take a turn climbing up and tossing the rope. I had visions of heads banged and teeth knocked out, but they each tried without causing injury. Then it was my turn, waiting had been hard 😉 I was able to hook the bridle and almost get it over. After a third or forth try it was there!
And the bit was broken 🙁
Oh well. It was still fascinating. Coming up with a back story for it has been so much fun. The leather is of course shot. But I am sending the buckle to a friend to see if she can remake the very basic headstall reusing the old buckle. We polished the bit up a bit and will put it in the house where we can admire it. We had a grand adventure and learned about problem solving and resourcefulness.
October has been so full of festivities that by the time Halloween proper rolled around I was exhausted. The kids weren’t and that is the important thing.
It was cold all day. We worked inside on shelling beans, freezing brussel sprouts and fitting in one last little bit of Halloween WOW and LOTRO. When evening rolled around we bundled up nice and warm then headed out into the chill.
That wasn’t actually all that chilly. I had forced layers of long underwear, coats, and gloves onto the children. They quickly discarded them. The weather was actually just about perfect. It’s supposed to be cold on Halloween. Even with the hint of mist in the air we all stayed warm walking as fast as we could, anxious to get to the next house and the next treat. We had planned on doing one street. They finished that in record time and we decided to go down the next one, then the next, and the next. They canvased most of the town and we were still home well ahead of bed time!
The littlest of the children had a hard time keeping up with the big ones. One of them crashed a few times right on his head in his rush to keep up and enjoy the fun. Luckily his trusty hat saved his face. He wore out quickly and retired to the car with his father who was as easily tired of trick or treating as my darling husband. The men followed in the vehicles, as the women ran behind the children loosely herding them along. No serious injuries were received, no children ran over by cars, we even made it home without hitting any deer!
Halloween was a success.
There’s nothing like a small town Halloween. There are houses where all the children are ushered inside. We stand on the street waiting without worry. All the children we meet we well known to each other. Even if not recognized under the costumes. They join together in bands then separate coming and going through the night. Home made treats are handed out without us worrying about who made them or what could be inside. Supper is traditionally held at the church, a combination of irony and beauty.
The kids and I spent last summer checking on the heifers. Towards fall we took over the cow herd too. This year we are starting out with the whole bunch.
While fixing fences this spring we found one tank badly in need of banking, piling dirt in around it so the cows, and calves, can reach over the side to get a drink. It was dug and washed down so deep next to the tank that only the cows could reach and only if they stretched clear up and over. That left one little tank for the cattle to drink out of. If it got filled by the big tank once the big tank got full. Which it couldn’t because the side of the tank was getting smashed lower than the over flow by cows standing on tip toes to reach over the side.
I bugged my husband until we all went over and got it fixed!
Today was the first day we were able to get back over and check on the repairs. The tanks looked good.
We went past the heifers. Their tank didn’t look good. It looked empty.
One heifer was in the tank. The rest were standing around looking thirsty. There was water still in the water hole next to it. It wasn’t an extreme emergency. Something needed done though. Soon. I was trying to decide if we could move the herd of yearlings, cow people will understand the issues involved with trying to move yearlings, using only one pickup across a wide open hay field. Or if we should go home and get the pickup and trailer and two 4wheelers.
As always happens when I need him, whether I know it or not, my husband called. He told me to check a few things before jumping straight to moving heifers. I know nothing about working on windmills. He said to look down the pipe and see of we could see the rod down there that the chain was supposed to be hooked to. I couldn’t.
As we were talking about how it wasn’t going to work our son was fiddling around. He held up the pipe that we were looking down. He had unscrewed it! Now we could see, and reach, another six inches down. With the top of the pipe off we could see the rod! Brilliant child.
Hanging up we went to work trying to follow directions and improvise to get them to work. Releasing the break on the windmill we let the wind lower the chain as far down as possible. It wasn’t near close enough to connect the chain coming down from the windmill to the rod it had to pump to bring up water.
All we had on hand were my fencing pliers, one vice grip, a flash light we found in the glove box, and a piece of chain left hanging on the windmill.
Using that we were able to remove the piece that needed to screw onto the rod. We got that, and the spare piece of chain attached to it. screwed onto the rod! The horror that would occur if we dropped anything down the pipe was fresh on my mind and I repeated it continuously to the children. My daughter clung to the chain and the lower half of the concoction as if her life depended on it.
No matter how hard we pulled we couldn’t get the rod up any higher. No matter how much we let the windmill go hoping it would somehow lower itself enough to reach, it couldn’t. When we connected rod and chain, using our spare chain, we could get the rod high enough but couldn’t hold it there to disconnect and reconnect chains.
I was about to give up.
Just when I needed him, my husband called back to see how things were going. Should he leave work and drive over?
From the first time I met him there hasn’t been a time that I really needed him that God hasn’t sent my husband to me. I try not to let myself get too comfortable in the knowledge that he will be there, but he always is.
We told him our problem. He gave us a solution. Take the vice grips off the chain where we were using them to hold the two chunks together. Find some wire, we were fencing after all, we had wire! Use that to hold the chains together. Let the windmill pull the rod up. Quickly snap the vice grips onto the rod to hold it up where it needed to be, disconnect and reconnect the chains where they needed to be.
Duh. So simple but so far out of my ignorant brain.
We went to work at it. Both children had been right there with me this whole time, working as hard as they could. Accomplishing every bit as much as I was. What good kids and what a great learning opportunity.
With a good bit of trial and error, but no fingers pinched or eyes poked out by wires flying through the air, we eventually got it. We only had to take out bolt back out once to put the pipe back over the chain so we could screw it back on once we had the chain connected. Sometimes the wind died down. As soon as we needed to rod drawn up a gust would come by and turn the windmill. God was with us in so many ways.
Wires removed, nuts tightened on the bolt. break released on the windmill the wind came up steady. Pumping water into the empty tank. It was flowing again. The windmill working beautifully. We had succeeded. To kids, a pair of fencing pliers, one vice grip, and me in my complete ignorance of windmill. And my husband over the phone of course.