One of those panicky moments in cattle feeding occurs when a gate is left open too long, a fence stops being secure, or whatever is the reason, the cattle discover there is an escape route and use it.
One or two critters see the opening and take advantage of it. In only seconds, other animals are following and then there are 10, 20 head or more on the wrong side of the fence if you do not get the hole plugged fast enough.
While the cattleman is scrambling to correct the problem, the cattle that have escaped are enjoying their newfound freedom. There is running, kicking, bawling, and head butting as they celebrate being on the other side of the fence.
These moments of joy last several minutes as they scatter in different directions to see all the places they can run to. If it was not so maddening, it is fun to watch them like school kids at recess.
However, the fun wears off and they realize that some of the cattle stayed behind. Then they realize their water tank and feed bunks are back in the lot with their friends.
When cattle got out for us, we would get the tractor and feed wagon and drive in the lot and along the bunks. It was as if we were feeding them because the feed wagon was empty.
The tractor and feed wagon was like hearing the dinner bell. Being on the wrong side of the fence and possibly missing a meal took more fun out of their freedom.
By now they were looking for the hole that was their escape route to find their way back in the lot. It was surprising how well this worked. It usually would bring in at least half of them, probably even two-thirds.
Getting in the last stragglers would take longer, but most of the time the herding instinct was strong enough the last ones would be caught and chased back into the lot.
The reason I have been thinking about cattle that escape, have moments of freedom and then want to get back to the place they were happy to leave is because my wife and I have been gone on the first week of a two-week vacation.
After being cooped up in the house during January and February with their almost weekly blizzards, we made our escape in the month of March driving to the east coast where we could see our nation’s capital for the first time.
Like the cattle who discovered that escapes can have their fun followed by wondering about how to get back to where we came from, we are enjoying ourselves, but know that many of the things we value are back home.
Seeing all the history has been great and we have stood in front of things that before we only knew from pictures. There is a lot to be said for being there.
So in a few days, just like Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz, who clicked her ruby slippers (yes, we saw those, too, at the Smithsonian) three times and said, “There’s no place like home,” we will tell the GPS to pick the route for home and point the ruby red pickup in a westerly direction.
We will enjoy those last moments of freedom a little more, knowing they will come to an end.
With cattle feeding, it helps to be smarter than the cattle, but this is one of those times when maybe we can learn from them.
Rye is a Farm News staff writer and farmer from Hanlontown. Reach him by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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