Farming in the Boy and the One Who Owns The Cattle

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Farming. You can take the boy off the farm, but you can’t take the farm out of the boy. I’ve seen that in my man.

Dave would like nothing better than to be baling hay all day and helping calves and lambs take their first steps into the world. For a few years, he got his dream of farming. He managed two different cattle farms with hundreds of cattle and acres on which to make hay. We liked farming and farm life and thought maybe we’d be doing that forever.

Then things happened and the farming opportunity was over. Even though he was offered several positions on other farms in the state, we knew they weren’t for him because of the location and because of our growing family. So we moved, and Dave gave up farming and started doing construction.

The man grew up on a farm and worked in his father’s construction business. The farm was a side project and construction kept the family clothed and fed. He was the second of eight, and whenever the choice was given to work with Pop on construction for a day or stay home and work the farm, he chose the farm. Always. Little wonder then that he missed farming – and still does. Yet he’s content with the occupation he has. It isn’t without frustration, I know.

“I used to head to work every day and ask God to give me a heart for construction or to let me go back to farming. I knew if I was going to be doing this to provide for my family, I needed to be able to enjoy it,” he says.

You know what? In time, Dave grew to love construction and the flexibility that being self-employed gave him. When our kids had special events at school or I needed help with doctors visits with foster kids, he could take off work without any worries.

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So from time to time, we’ve kept cattle on the few open acres we own.  For years, our kids showed in the Halifax County Junior Livestock Show where they learned valuable lessons about dependability, responsibility, and caring for their animals. This gave Dave the opportunity to enjoy having cattle here as well as having a fun family project. To read about halter-breaking heifers, you can go here. 

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Tim, his first heifer and his sponsor, the late Dr. Ward, who delivered our son and saved his life.

A few years back we sold Roscoe, the 2300-lb. bull and got rid of the cattle. Then last fall Dave chose some new heifers to start raising cattle again. He also purchased Duke, who promised to be a good sire for never-before-bred heifers.

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Duke checks out his newborn while Mama watches.

The farmer who sold the bull promised to keep him until Dave was ready to have him added to the pasture with the heifers. All was well until the day Dave decided to move the electric fence further back to give the heifers more grass. He dropped the fence and walked to the end of the pasture to unhook the other end of the fence, expecting the heifers to forage right there among the fresh, new grass. Five minutes later he was back and discovered that the heifers had disappeared.

Dave followed their hoof prints to the edge of the woods where they vanished –  just like the cattle. So he walked through our woods, then through our neighbor’s, then onto the next farm, searching for signs, and found nothing. How could six heifers disappear so quickly and so completely?!

Those heifers had headed to the woods – only this time, I wasn’t the one to blame! (You can read about that here.)

For three days, he walked the neighboring pastures, drove miles along all the neighboring farms, talked to farm owners and property owners. No one had seen those heifers. Dave walked miles those days but it was in vain.

Finally, we printed up flyers about the missing heifers and left our contact number at the country store just across the road. We handed out flyers to neighbors while our sons and cousins came and helped walked the same places Dave had walked.

Then we went out of town. I wondered at my man this time. I wondered how he could just leave and not be worried about one of them getting out on the road and causing an accident. I wondered if we were crazy to leave town with six heifers missing.

“This is a lesson in how not to worry,” Dave told me. “God knows where those cattle are, and since He owns the cattle on a thousand hills, He can take care of them. They’re not my heifers. They are His. Besides, since there are six of them, it’s not likely they will start wandering the roads. They’re probably holed up somewhere with some other cattle. Worrying isn’t going to bring them back.”

After he had done all that he could do (which included a lot of praying), he left it with the One Who really does own the cattle on a thousand hills – including six heifers lost somewhere in the Cluster Springs area of Halifax County.

And I wondered why these fool-hardy heifers had to disappear just when it seemed Dave was going to get his chance to farm as a hobby again. If we lost those heifers, there would be no way we’d be able to buy any others.

We left Sunday afternoon and returned Tuesday evening.

Dave felt compelled to go check a farm where he’d seen a bunch of cattle the week before. Sure enough, there they were – all six of them. The farm owner doesn’t live there and the renters didn’t notice the extra cattle.

Twenty-four hours later, the heifers were back home. This spring, five of the six produced healthy calves. The barren one is named Hannah. We sit on the deck in the evenings watching the calves play and frolic in the pasture. Then we remember how nearly it might not have been, and how blessed we are that the lost were returned. We remember that it wasn’t worrying that brought them home. And we remember how easy it is to forget what might have been – and how often we fail to give thanks.

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Photo credit: Rebekah Slabach

The dream of farming was lost for many years; now, even though we’re not truly farming, we have enough to enjoy and to be at peace and at rest.

Pinterest Farming in the Boy

 

 

 

On Moving Cattle from One Pasture to Another

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I am a pro at moving cattle. Not.

It seems I can never get it quite right. Except for the times that I do. Usually.

The day Dave was moving cattle on a farm in another county, I was big as a barn with our fourth child. We had groundhogs on the farm, and four-year-old Timmy was afraid of groundhogs. He wasn’t, however, afraid of cows, heifers or bulls who were a gazillion pounds heavier than groundhogs. There were several hundred cattle and quite a few bulls, but the only one slightly fearful was me, the pregnant mom.

Not a lot has changed since that time, except that I’m not pregnant when we’re moving cattle anymore. Those days are gone, but moving cattle days aren’t.

My job, during the moving-cattle-time-at this place, was to stand in the yard to keep those animals from traipsing across the flower beds and leaving cow pies in the yard in which our kids would be playing. I don’t like bulls. That’s because I grew up in dairy country, and I can tell you stories about people being gored by dairy bulls.

There was the cousin who had a pitchfork in his hand when the bull charged him while he was cleaning out his pen. The pitchfork saved the life of my cousin, and the bull was sold the next day.

Another one of my jobs in recent years has been to keep the cattle from eating the leaves of the newly planted pear trees. It’s so easy, you know: six head of cattle eating away at different trees and I’m to be waving six hands at six heads feasting on six different trees to make them move away from their newly-found pleasure. As if they will listen to me. Except when I holler and move too fast, and then they listen too well. They head for the road or the woods. Neither place is where they are allowed to go, and guess who is called the-woman-you-gave-to-me when that happens?!

My husband says there is no need to be afraid of a beef bull. They’re gentle and friendly and won’t hurt you. “Just don’t act like you’re scared,” I’ve been told.

And just how, pray tell, is someone to act like they’re not scared when they are?!

You have a four-year-old tell you, “It’s all right, Mama. I won’t let the groundhogs get you,” when he’s standing in the yard helping you guard the flower beds. You wonder how he could be so unafraid while you’re wishing this was all over before it started.

Dave thought it was a riot when he heard this. After all, even his small son wasn’t afraid of the cattle. Therefore I shouldn’t be, either. (And groundhogs don’t count so we can’t even go there.) For that matter,  he feels the same about black snakes, but that’s another story.

I’ve discovered that beef cattle bulls really are docile in spite of their size. I’ve picked blackberries among the two-ton bull and his harem and not been afraid. I just make sure I know where he is at all times, just in case. Even so, I could never outrun a bull, no matter how much adrenaline would be flowing through my veins. You see, I’ve got this knee that orthopedics says will need a replacement some day. So I just move as best I can and hope the bull likes me more than I like him.

After all these years, my job in moving cattle continues to be along the back side, away from the forefront of where things are happening. I’m in the back in the “just in case they go that way” part of the yard. I’m still expected to hang on one side of the yard until they move to the other side of the house and then high-tail it to that other side to keep them from heading back to the woods. As if I can high-tail with this knee, anyhow. Usually, by the time I get to the other side of the house, the cattle are in the pasture. Oh well, I’m there for support if nothing else.

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And, I do help move the vehicles. Oh no, we’re not afraid of the cattle hurting our vehicles. We use them as a barricade. Toby, the red pick up, Milo the 15-passenger van, Alphonse the Buick, Thelma Lou the other Buick, Leo the tan Ford minivan, Waldo the white Chrysler minivan, Leroy the white pick-up, and any other vehicle that happens to be on the property. They’re all lined up along the front of the house so the cattle will be deterred from heading toward the road – which, by the way, is not a fun thing to happen. You do not even want to know how I know.

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So we open the gates of the unoccupied pasture, line up the vehicles, and are stationed at strategic places along the front of the house. Except for me. My job is to hang around the back and look like I know what I’m doing. And then, in case any cattle do come my way, shoo them to the front of the house. ‘Piece of cake, I know. I’ve been doing this for 29 years. I’ve got it.

Whatever I do, I’m not to run because that will make them head anywhere but where we want them to go. Whatever I do, I’m to keep cool and collected and know exactly what Dave would want me to do in the event of an unforeseen cattle maneuver (which, by the way, I usually get incorrect). Whatever I do, I’m not to let any cattle get around me to the back of the house because that’s where the woods is, and that’s where cattle go when we can’t find them for days. You also don’t want to know how I  know about this.

The other thing I’m to do is just give ’em time. You know, the cattle. Let them meander out into the yard, allow them to graze as much as they want but don’t allow them to get to flower beds or trees. Then, wait – and wait – and wait – for them to decide which way they want to go. Oh yes, and the other thing is we listen to Dave say, “Easy, easy, easy, just give ’em time . . . ”  After a few moves, the new-to-us cattle know the other pasture with newer grazing is just across the way. Until they remember that, it’s a wait-and-see game.

There are other rules about moving cattle.

Don’t yell. Don’t move fast (except when I’m to move to the other side of the house lickety-split). If they come toward me, allow them – unless they decide to move past me, which I’m to realize because I can read their minds. After all, I’m a farm gal and I should know how to read their movements and their minds. Simultaneously, to be exact.

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Usually, things go like clock-work. Usually, the vehicles provide the barrier necessary and the cattle choose to head toward the greener pasture instead of the road. Usually, I can convince them to go in another direction if they head my way. Usually, I don’t move too fast. Usually, I don’t startle the cattle. Usually, they move away from me instead of toward me. Usually.

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I’m always glad when it’s a usually-move. There’s a whole lot less tension and frustration when it’s a usually-move. It’s really nice because when usually happens, I don’t have to dig out that Marriage 101 manual again.