Did you know May was National Beef Month? I absolutely LOVE steak! Steak comes from beef cattle and sometimes dairy cattle which are used for meat rather than milk.
While we only raise a steer or two every other year, I have assisted our neighbor who has approximately 50 head of cattle. [Explanation on the word ‘head’: A ‘head’ is considered one animal – in this case he has a cow calf operation with a couple bulls or males for breeding purposes. Once the calves are born and weaned they are sold. Between the moms (cows), bulls (dads) and calves (the kiddos), there are a total of around 50 animals.] I wish I had more time because I really enjoy working with his cattle. Working cattle can be a bit tricky if you are unfamiliar with what you are doing. Whether they are beef cattle or dairy cattle, they all have a natural instinct to circle. And, its important to understand this instinct and remain calm if you happen to come upon cattle which are loose on the road. When panic occurs, your first reaction likely is to go after the animal(s). This tends to steer the animal to the opposite direction from its designate home or intended location. In celebration of National Beef Month, I could talk about how much I love steak but instead I’d like to talk a little farm safety with you.
Some times the best way to learn is doing so from others experience. I have a great example of what can happen when cattle are loose and how non-cattle people can take some steps, such as remaining calm, to keep everyone safe. Last summer, while working at my desk with the radio blaring, I could have promised you I heard the faint sounds of moos. A few moments later I received a call from one of our neighbors. He was panicked and informed me that a stampede just went through my front yard. He had tried running after them but they didn’t stop. What he actually did was drive the calves further away. In my shorts, I ran out to find a few head in an adjacent field which was overgrown with weeds – including my favorite itch weed. I grabbed my muck boots and began to reach the field. By listening to their moos, I determined they were in the next field which was planted in corn, standing approximately 5 ft tall. It was impossible to see where they had gone.
By that time, my other neighbor and owner of the cattle had reached our property with his ATV. We’ll call him Mr. Cattle. He estimated that around 17-18 escaped. I jumped aboard and we tried to ‘circle’ around to direct them back to their farm. (Thats when I noticed a burning on my legs.) Unfortunately, they were out of reach and going into the corn would have done a couple things. 1.) Increase the already high stress situation for the cattle. 2.) Would have been dangerous since there was no visibility in the tall corn. 3.) Increase the chance of causing additional damage to the corn. We continued to attempt to blindly circle the animals but continued to find barriers to property lines including timber, a creek and fencing.
Mr. Cattle and I gave up and headed back to the farm to hydrate and check on a problem with the ATV. And, well, my legs were now itching like never before and had large welts so some hydrocortisone was in order. After this very, short break we headed back down their lane to find that the cattle had circled back on their own and were headed towards the pasture. Using some behavior techniques which direct the cattle to a preferred location, they were driven to the lane, down to the barn and into safety. After taking role call we discovered there was still one calf missing. We gave up searching in hopes that the calf would also circle around on its own. I returned to my house and picked up Pudder from the bus. In true Pudder form, he got off of the bus yelling that he saw a cow in the road on the way home. I quickly stopped the bus driver to confirm my little peeps excitement.
Sure enough, the calf had ran nearly two miles, found the bridge to cross the nearby interstate and was running to the north of our road. I ran for the van so we could try and head it off, circling it back across the interstate and towards the farm. Our bus driver called and said that rather than being on the north side of our road, it was now traveling to the south. Once we arrived at the location it was last seen, the calf was gone. No where in sight. Mr. Cattle, his wife, friends and neighbors and myself continued to search on both sides of the interstate, but did not found the calf.
It became dusk and while it was unsafe to leave the calf missing, there wasn’t anything else or anywhere else we could search. It would have to spend the night on its own and we all prayed it didn’t somehow find itself on the interstate endangering the lives of traveling passengers.
Morning arrived. I put my kids on the bus, did morning chores and headed over to Mr. and Mrs. Cattle. Much to everyone’s surprise, through the night, the calf found its way back over the interstate, two miles down the road and was waiting at the gate to join the rest of the herd. Amazing? Yes and no. We believe that the calf continued south until it found the next interstate bridge, crossed there, headed through several miles of fields back to the farm. And, it did so using its natural tendency to circle.
So, while it might seem like a good thing to go to the loose animal, you should actually circle around causing the animal to go back in the direction it came. In this situation, had my neighbor known to remain calm and circle around, the calves may have avoided that darn itch weed and we could have cut the run short. However, not being familiar to cattle or farming, I wouldn’t expect him, or many others like him, to know what to do. Hopefully, this blog post helps you if encountering a loose animal on the road.
That was my friendly PSA for today. Happy be-lated National Beef Month! Even though its now June, we can keep celebrating beef all-year-round by trying new recipes and clicking here learning some quick facts about beef.
Be safe out there!