Have you seen the cows lately, hon?


The quinoa was done, the baked beans and deer brats were piping hot, and the snap peas were steamed to a perfect crisp-tender-sweet. Dinner time. I was hungry.

David was standing by the sliding glass doors that lead out to the deck and he was squinting to the east – to the pasture where he’d moved our 18 Buelingo cows and calves (plus one rented bull) the previous day. It started raining, again.

“Hon, have you seen the cows lately?” he asked.

“Whatta ya mean, seen the cows?” I said as I got out knives and forks.

“I only count five calves and a steer,” Dave said as he shaded his eyes and looked further into the distance.

I put down the cutlery and joined him at the door. “They’re probably in the barn,” I said. “They do that sometimes when it rains.” I strained to look across the fields and through the gates by the barn, wishing the cows into view.

A lone steer paced the pasture, the little calves following close behind. The big guy was bellowing while looking west at some point behind the house. Darn.

“How long till dinner?” Dave asked.

“About 15 seconds,” I replied. I knew what was coming.

“I’m going to go look for the cows,” said Dave as he pulled on shoes and headed out the door.

I turned off the burners and thought about the snap peas. Then I walked into the attached garage, pulled on my knee-high barn boots and went to join Dave in the search. The cows couldn’t be very far. Our farm, Bull Brook Keep, in western Wisconsin, is only 72 acres, and 22 of those are fenced off for growing hay. The rest is open pasture where our beef cattle graze throughout the spring, summer and fall.

And then again, they could’ve jumped fences and gotten into a nearby field or wandered out on the road. There was also the complication of the visiting bull with the wandering eye. The bull, a red and white we’ve rented for the breeding season, arrived at our farm, immediately jumped the fences and began courting a Holstein dairy cow at a neighboring farm. It took a bit of work to get him back. Maybe he instigated the jail-break. Hmmm.

Dave fired up the 4-wheeler and headed north. It took him only seconds to reach the run-aways. They were just a few hundred yards from the house, happily munching on tall grass.

The rain picked up as Dave and I reached the herd. We needed to get them back into their assigned pasture and keep them there until we were ready to rotate them to a fresh field.

We began pushing them, being careful not to spook them and cause them to gallop to a far corner of the farm. And by push, I don’t mean actually touching them. Instead we’d walk along side of them until they became uncomfortable with us and voluntarily moved forward.

Our hope was to usher them thru that spot in our temporary fence that had come down. (Temporary fencing is made with very flexible rope composed of multiple strands of conductive wire and plastic thread. It seems a knot in the rope had come undone.)

Well, the cows had no interest in helping us out. We tried to move them east, and they decided to move west. Grrr.

The rain began to come down harder. It was time for “the bell.”

We’ve had about 4 inches of rain in the last several days and the barn yard is three inches of mud and manure that pulled on my boots as I trudged to the barn.

I found the bell, walked back out into the rain and began to swing the thing as I yelled out “Coooome on, coooome on girls,” over and over. They didn’t come running, but they couldn’t resist. They know that when they hear the bell, they get alfalfa pellets. They’re addicted. Fortunately, alfalfa is good for my grass-fed/grass-finished cattle.

And so Dave and I corralled the little herd back into their appointed paddock. I was soaked and glad to have my boots between me and the mire. I climbed on the 4-wheeler behind Dave, and he drove us back up to the house.

I stood on the deck and looked across the field. “…16, 17, 18, 19.” They were all there. It was raining steadily as I splashed water on my jeans in a sorry attempt to rinse off some of the manure before throwing my worn denims into the washing machine.

Back inside, I pulled on a fresh pair of jeans, washed my hands and arms, and micro-waved heat back into our meal. Time for dinner.

A healthful meal. Cows back behind repaired fence. Blessed rain. We’re very thankful for these gifts, and for the opportunity to farm together as a couple.

I hope you had a good day.