Making Hay

Week of January 27th, 2008 | The weather was very cold and icy.

Cowyard Drama

by Sarah Holm

Sarah with cows.

Sarah with cows.

Sarah Holm is a sixteen year old Organic Valley farm daughter. She is homeschooled and is the oldest of six girls. The Holm Girls work together with their parents on their thirty cow dairy farm in Elk Mound, WI. They rotational graze their Jersey cows, who are all pets. Sarah and her sisters have a lot of fun working with their cows and playing with their menagerie of other animals; which include dogs, cats, chickens, ducks, a rabbit and a horse.

It was a warm evening in mid-January, when I went out to the barn for evening chores. The sun would be going down soon. The snow was still slippery and the air quite humid.

The cows were outside, waiting to come in. Before I could let them in I had to get the calves in the calf barn.

As I walked through the corral to the cow yard, I heard a sharp, pitiful cry behind me. It was our young tomcat, Fred. "Hi, Fred!" I cried as I ran to pick him up. "Mew, mew!" squeaked Fred in his 'I'm a cute helpless baby' voice. He ran toward me, shaking the snow off his paws with every step. "Freddy, what are you doing out in the snow? Do you want to freeze?" The fat, sleek cat climbed up on my shoulder, turned around, settled himself comfortably, and purred. Now he could see where we were going.

The cow yard is a large pasture that encompasses a giant steep hill. It is divided into four sections with temporary fencing. Our six calves were supposed to be in the section closest to the barn, but they had broken through the thin, wire fence and were in a section on the other side of the hill.

I stood at the bottom of the hill in the corral calling for them. "Come on girls. Come on babies!" They came up to the top of the hill and looked at me. They must've decided that they were having too much fun to come in, because they kicked up their heels, whirled around, and ran back over the hill. Erika, my fifteen year old sister, came out of the barn just then so I asked her to come up with me and help. Climbing this hill is tricky even in the summertime because of its steepness and with the wet snow we fell down a lot.

I continued my conversation with Fred as we climbed.

"Do you like the snow, Freddy?"

"Purr."

"You got all wet though, look at your muddy paws!"

Freddy purred as he put the paws in question on my bare neck.

"Fred! Yuck, get your dirty paws off me!"

"Purr."

Once we got to the top of the hill, Erika and I tried to chase the calves back over the fence. The problem with tame calves is they aren't scared of you so they won't run in the right direction. We spent ten frustrating minutes trying to herd them over the fence. We only got one over. The whole time I was running around chasing calves Freddy was hanging on for dear life to my shoulder. I tried to put him down once but he came after me so I had to pick him up again. Finally I stopped.

"Okay Erika, this is not working. Let's try leading them over the fence by their collars." " And you, Freddy, get off me and stop following me around." I ripped Fred off my shoulder and set him on a big rock.

"Meow!" he cried, reaching for me.

"No Fred, stay there," I told him firmly.

We finally managed to chase down every calf, grab their collars, and with Erika pulling and me pushing, drag them over the down fence. This took a while and by the time we had put the fence back up it was dark out.

The calves had not gone down the hill to the barn like sensible creatures. Instead they were chasing poor Freddy across the pasture. With the six calves on his tail, Freddy ran for an oak tree and scrambled up. The calves stood around the trunk, licking the tree and mooing. They looked ridiculously proud of themselves, like a bunch of dogs that had just treed a raccoon.

"Freddy!" we cried, running to the rescue. "It's okay, we're coming." We shooed the mischievous calves away from the tree and set about getting Freddy down. Now you may think we were overreacting, but this wasn't any tree. This was the tree, we have had countless foolish cats and kittens climb up and fall out of it. And no, cats do not always land on their feet.

I hoisted Erika up the curved trunk until she had one foot on my shoulder and the other in my locked hands. "Come on, Freddy" she pleaded, "come here cutie." Freddy wiggled his tail and went out on a thinner branch. "Stupid cat!" she hissed. Fred was enjoying himself. He was pouncing on leaves and rubbing himself on branches, paying no attention to his climbing. Erika wiggled her fingers to get his attention. He started coming toward her, but was distracted by a shaking leaf. Freddy jumped for it, and fell out of the tree. Erika jumped for him (kind of painful for the person she was standing on) and caught him by one leg in mid-air. Because of her bad grip she tried to hand him to me, forgetting that I was using my hands to keep her up. She dropped him. I saw him coming toward my face with his claws outstretched, and ducked my head. Freddy landed on my head, climbed down my back and jumped to the ground.

I lowered Erika down and we started comforting Freddy. "Poor Freddy," we said, each giving him a kiss. This was probably a waste of time, as Freddy was undisturbed and purring as usual.

We never did get the calves in before the cows. After chasing them across the pasture a few times, we gave up. We went back to the barn and let the cows in. Once the cows were comfortably settled in, I went to see if the calves were ready to come in yet. They sure were, six very indignant calves were waiting for me at the gate, bawling for their food.

Farm Fact: Cows can detect odors up to five miles away.

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