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Cow Tales from the Dairy Farm – “Cows Out! Come Quick!”

Kathy Benoit, a dairy farmer from our Connecticut office, returns as this week’s FarmTek Farmer.
Cows behind fenceWith spring having sprung there is lots of maintenance to be done on the farm. Spring always brings with it the promise of crops to be planted and pastures to be opened. The good weather has the cows trying to slide their heads under the gates and fences to snack on the little grass blades that were tough enough to pop up even with some frosty nights and still cool ground.

Being still early in the season, we try to plan and get ahead of the game. The big tractor is out with the 5 bottom plow, just waiting to get the earth tilled up and ready for planting, but we have to be careful to not plant too soon or too late. Too early and the frost will kill everything, or plant too late and then the tractor notoriously gets stuck in the mud. While we wait for the go ahead for tractor work, we start checking out the barns and fences.

“It seems like we were just out here fixing this fence,” is the usual comment while we are picking up a post that might have fallen down from a snow-laden branch from earlier in the year. Our pasture fencing consists of wood posts, wire mesh, and electrical smooth wire. Using wire mesh along with our electrical wire gives us a backup. We have our fence charger set up, but if somehow the power goes out, or the charger is unplugged by someone on the farm crew and “mysteriously” not plugged back in, we have something to keep the girls in. We are fortunate that the cows have mostly hay and corn fields to get into, but even still, they can wreak havoc on a 4 week old corn plant with their giant feet or giant tongues.

Cows out in darkOne night last summer I decided to let the cows go out to pasture like usual, but this time they had a new addition to the crew. Dill was just moved into the herd and like any young heifer, she wanted to kick up her heels and enjoy the fresh pasture. I let the cows out and headed home for the night (about 5 minutes from the farm). Four hours later, at midnight, I get the phone call.

“Cows *gasp* out! Come QUICK!” was all I heard. You would be surprised how fast you can get dressed in the dark and out the door when someone says that. Rubber boots without socks is not a pleasant feeling, but I was back to the farm in a heartbeat to find the ladies making trouble near the farm’s driveway. Most of the cows had found a cozy spot in our calf yard, reaching over the fences to the hutches to eat the tasty calf starter (a molasses coated grain) that each calf has a specific pail for. This is the truest example of taking candy from a baby. Dill was the exception. Dill had found her way to the main road and was snacking on some grass on the edge of it. Being midnight gave us the advantage, traffic on the road was a lot lighter than during the day, so we were able to herd her back to the main part of the driveway without dodging cars. Dill is a stubborn creature, wanting to be pet and fed more than moved, so we were pushing her along as best we could. One unexpected visitor during all of this was the 18-wheeler that came cruising down the road; luckily he saw us, slowed down and stopped. Once we were clear of the road, he gave us a quick wave and a honk. That was all the persuasion Dill needed to get moving! With a horrified look, she took off running back to the main herd as though she hadn’t seen them in years.

Old, worn fenceOnce everyone was back in the barnyard and locked in for the night, I headed home to go back to bed. Morning chores still come early even if the cows got out last night. I walked the fence the next morning, to find that someone forgot to plug the fence charger back in, and the cows found the one spot where the wire mesh was older than I am and the grass was just too green to ignore. That section of fence got replaced with new mesh a day later and hopefully still looks good as I plan to head out to fix fence. Here’s to a happy, prosperous spring!

Photo credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/noii/3093348673/, http://www.flickr.com/photos/victoriachan/2479401328/, http://www.flickr.com/photos/tarboxje/5872826697/

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