My Kingdom for a Cattle Dog

After a fitful night’s sleep, I woke up with a knot in my stomach. On today’s to-do list was moving the calves and after Friday’s ordeal, I was dreading it.

We finished chores and Steve headed out to pick up the week’s meat from the slaughterhouse. I took straw down to all the pig huts (it’s getting colder now and the straw is nice, warm bedding for them) and boxed up eggs. I grabbed a quick lunch and checked in at our weekly meeting. Steve and I just stayed long enough to cover the farm side of things and then we gathered our supplies and gritted our teeth for the task at hand.

We set up all of our fences and triple checked all of the gates. Everything was closed and all of the fences were hot. We were ready.

First we tried calling them, but they were about as far away as they could get. We wanted them to come to the gate at the bottom left corner of the pasture and they were hanging out in the top right corner. I walked up so they could see me. We thought perhaps they didn’t realize we were calling them (as opposed to one of the other cattle groups).

I found a large group of them and got them moving – very slowly – in the right direction. Unfortunately, while I was working that group, a second group had found their way down to Steve and the gate. I couldn’t walk my group down without spooking the group that was waiting with Steve. Thank goodness for phones! I called Steve and we agreed that I would go hide in the wooded area of the pasture, clearing the path for the group I’d been working to join the rest of the herd. I cleared out but they just stood there. And stood there. And stood there.

Steve called them until he was hoarse and then we reevaluated. We decided I should make a wide circle through the woods to get around behind them and move them along. As I was making my way through the briars and thorns, I stumbled upon another six calves just hanging out. Luckily, when they saw me they started moving up towards the rest of the herd. Eventually we got everyone down to the gate.

The end result of my trek through the woods

The end result of my trek through the woods

Our next dilemma was number 78. He was the one who jumped the fence on Friday. We ended up chasing him into the steer pasture which is next to the pig pen. When all the calves came running, he did, too. I suggested we go ahead and open both gates so 78 could rejoin the herd as they made their way to their new pasture. Steve is too nice to tell me my ideas are dumb and just went along with it.

The gates. No. 78 was in the pasture on the left (see how nice and open it is?) and the rest of the herd in the tree-filled pig pen on the right.

The gates. No. 78 was in the pasture on the left (see how nice and open it is?) and the rest of the herd in the tree-filled pig pen on the right.

Guess what happened? Instead of 78 running out and joining his friends, his friends all ran into the steer pasture to join him! Fail. This wasn’t what we’d wanted, but at least they were in an open pasture instead of a wooded one. It is much easier to work when you can see everyone and your final destination (i.e. the gate).

We went ahead and fenced them into a small section of the pasture to make it easier to work them. Then slowly, very slowly, we pushed them towards the gate and the lane. They didn’t even hesitate running out which was nothing short of a miracle.

Now that they were in the lane, we needed to push them toward the open gate into their new pasture. The problem was that the path into the pasture was narrow and the path down to the creek wide. We had the creek blocked off with coil springs (which were hooked up to the electric fence), but calves are known to run through such barriers. As soon as we got them out the gate, they made a beeline for the creek and coil springs. They stopped before going through, but we couldn’t push them or turn them from where we were. I needed to get around to the other side of the creek to push them back towards the lane and the new pasture.

The path that turns off to the right leads down to the creek. We needed them to move a little farther up to the coil spring gate on the right.

The path that turns off to the right leads down to the creek. We needed them to move a little farther up to the coil spring gate on the right.

As I’ve mentioned before, calves aren’t like cows. They have a much larger flight zone which means you have to give them a very wide berth to avoid spooking them. Had we been working cows, I could have gone through the corner gate, jumped across the creek and turned them back. No problem. But we were working calves and the corner gate was in their flight zone. So I ran all the way down the lane to the far gate and then all the way back down. By the time I got back they’d found their way into the proper pasture. At least I got my run in for the day, right?

I sprinted ALL the way down this lane.

I sprinted ALL the way down this lane.

It wasn’t perfect or efficient, but it wasn’t Friday night either. No one got worked up – bovine or human – and everyone is where they belong. Still, I’d give my left arm for a good cattle dog. That would make our lives so much easier! Maybe we could trade in Chicken-dog for one. I sincerely hope their next move happens on a Monday or Tuesday when I am not around! Kidding…

Content in their new pasture

Content in their new pasture

Speaking of Chicken-dog, Steve and I saw a bald eagle flying around this morning. He was clearly eyeing our chickens. Faith (a.k.a. Chicken-dog) was freaking out. I told her that killing a bald eagle would make her a terrorist and I’d report her to the CIA. I’m not sure she understood. I am sure that eagle is much smarter than Chicken-dog and won’t be foolish enough to come within her reach.

3 thoughts on “My Kingdom for a Cattle Dog

  1. How do you call the cows? Do you use a certain word? Or a sound?

    If you had a cattle dog, how would it know where you wanted the cows to go? I’ve seen them work in movies/TV, but took it for granted that they knew where to guide the animals. Now I’m wondering! Do the people walk/ride in front and the dog just makes sure they follow?

    • Well, when we pound the new fence they start coming. Then we just should “come on” as well let them through into the new pasture. It works very nicely.

      As for cattle dogs, they have to be trained. Generally they are trained to bring the herd to the farmer (us!), but they also learn commands for different actions (left, right, etc.). In the calf situation, we could have sent the dog in and it would have brought them to us at the gate. Or in an open pasture where you can see what’s going on, you could shout commands to the dog to get it to lead the cattle where you wanted them.

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