The Big Mamas are here. For those of you playing along at home, we’re starting a cow farm and we’re establishing our herd. After much thought and planning by Brent, he decided to fill up the herd with fifteen mama cows. They arrived in good form and really, really love our hay. Two of them already calved and arrived with baby. The day after, one of the first-time moms popped out a female calf successfully. It’s the year of the ‘h’ so we have Homer, Hibou and Hermione. Hermione was named by a guest visiting the day of the birth.
After a few days of mingling, Brent set off to merge the herds. After our last experience of merging herds, let me tell you now … we learned a thing or three. I feel comfortable offering advice should anyone fall into this circumstance. Tip number one: don’t start up a grass-fed beef farm, have a baby, move into a house missing windows and doors in a country you don’t know the language all that well all at the same time. Any one of those items is awesome, but all at once is doable, but tough. Tip two and three: get your fences cranked up to eleven. Tip four: don’t buy a facebook of heifers; They’re giddy little teenagers who tend to bolt if someone insults them. Tip five: don’t buy heifers that insult other heifers and expect them all to get along. At the moment this will be our last herd merge. From here on out, we stop buying cows and start selling grass-fed meat.
Herd Merge 2012 went VERY WELL. Brent and I talked through the plan with quick alternatives should a “moo off” turn ugly. Oh yes, there was mooing, but the girls handled it as classy bitches. The plan was
1) move our current herd to green pasture
2) let mama cows work out the hierarchy in the pens
3) let mama cows out to explore fresh grass near old herd
4) move mama cows adjacent to old herd with big, fat hay bale for each group
5) remove hot wire that separates the two herds
6) two cows facing each other … but they are one
(seriously, planning cow moves is not unlike moving data around in the computer world. Just a bit slower after you compile and then run your program).
There were a few moments that stood out. When Brent first walked the new girls out to the paddock, a calf was left behind. Brent said, “watch that calf.” At the time, I’m also watching four kids fish by a lake while carrying Zélie on my back. I’m hoping the kids don’t fall in the lake and that that calf doesn’t bolt. A calf can sometimes bolt into a safe place and take days to find. This happened to our neighbor and I didn’t want this to happen to us. When I’m carrying Z on my back, I don’t go very fast. Homegirl is heavy. I told the kids to go watch a movie while we deal with the cows. I went around and closed the gate so the calf wouldn’t escape. Not soon after, the cows walked at cow speed back up to the pens and picked up the calf. Yeah! Cows are great. They’re cool. They’re slow. They’re over that giddy part of life. Heifers are crazy.
Brent made some quick judgment calls with respect to the plan and suddenly the new cows were next to the old herd separated by a hot wire. Cut to the next morning, with plenty of hay for everyone, Brent removed the hot wire and they were one.
Later that day, there were challenges, head butting, licking and munching. It takes but one head-to-head rumble to tip a temporary fence. Brent’s permanent fences held strong, but the temp fence fell down twice. We shooed them back in to their grass paddock and all was fine (I say “shoo,” which is accurate for Brent. For me “shoo” means holy fuck! Cows! What do I do? “Allez!” I say. In my mind, I flip through all the cow moving techniques to get them where you want them. Most of the time, I stand there arms wide, extended with my stick and that does the trick.) While shoo-ing the cows, Brent had me unhook the temp fence so he could work with it without shocking himself. I did just that. Then it slipped. Then I heard words I’ve never heard Brent say, directed at me. Then I’m reminded of our wedding vows which I don’t recall ever stating “thou shalt not zap thy husband.” And I was SO SORRY for sending 15 gigawatts through my ever so loving and wonderful husband. The reel the temporary fence was on went flying into the air and then broke. Brent is resourceful and managed to get it all working for the cows.
As I write, the girls are basking in the Gascon sun, ruminating about all the lovely grass they will eat in the days to follow. The calves are running around, then napping, then feeding. This morning, we had another first time mom pop out little Hüsker Dü (you can tell when we start naming the calves. I think we are going to have too much fun with ‘h’).
The herds are now merged. Now we can move on to the biggest IKEA project I’ve ever tackled, the cattle pens.