The Day We Herded Cows
Preface: My mom and step-dad recently bought a house in the country on 14 acres of land and invited me to stay a while. I said yes after living in the city my entire life. I think it will be good for me.
The Day We Herded Cows
The cows broke the gate and escaped to an open field. I had just finished an exhausting run through the woods and was making my way toward the house when I noticed that the gate that keeps the cows in their field was wide open. That gate should never be open. I lifted my eyes from the rusty chains to find all four cows feasting on fresh green grass and spread throughout an open field that connects to the orchard and the woods.
I didn’t know how bad this was, but I knew it wasn’t good. First of all, I don’t know how to herd cows. Second of all, to be honest, they freak me out. Sometimes when I cross through their pasture they run toward me—one in particular will do so with his head down and hooves stomping. I kick my leg toward him and make myself as large as I can be, doing a sort of animal noise that I imagine confuses him immensely about who I am. I wonder about the statistics of people being attacked by cows and consider Googling it if I ever make it to safety.
Sidenote: I Googled it and found that cows kill an estimated 22 people each year--more than shark attacks--and that “group attacks can be surprisingly well-coordinated.”
Continuing toward the house, I found my mom walking into their empty field with a handful of hay and a big scoop of grain. She was going to coax them with snacks. But I was watching them go to town on that fresh grass and couldn’t imagine anything better to a cow. “It’s like candy to them,” she said. Tall green grass as far as their eyes could see. Of course my stepdad was out of town and they don’t know their neighbors yet, so this rescue mission was on us.
“What do we do?” I asked.
“I don’t know,” she said. “We have to get them back or they’re going to be food for the coyotes.”
She was standing in the field in a tank top and jeans, looking sort of stumped but also ready for action. I was used to seeing her in heels and with her legs crossed, always poised and talking in a soft voice. Since she moved to the country I’ve seen another side of her, a side that balances her neatness with an open, windy manner. She moves with elegance but commands the dogs when we walk through the woods. She wears tall boots in the barn and doesn’t fear the smell of cow shit.
I located a big fallen tree branch and dragged it through the open gate to face the cows. I figured I’d have to be forceful and I didn’t want to get trampled to death.
“That’s good,” my mom said. “Maybe you can get behind them with that.”
I chose to start on one of the less threatening cows, the one they call Curly. I came behind him with the tree branch, resting it lightly against his backside and ushering him in the direction of the gate. He stopped eating and walked a couple feet, then spun around and started running. So I started running too, holding out the massive tree branch to keep him along the fence line. The cow was too fast and as if things couldn’t get any worse, he slipped through a hole in the fence, onto the neighbor’s property. I looked at my mom. She was very concerned about this turn of events.
My new plan was keeping the other cows from doing the same. I stayed fence-side while I approached each one with the branch. At one point we got two cows running toward the gate but then they passed right by it and into the other neighbor’s hazelnut orchard, kicking up leaves and making a big, violent scene.
All the while my mom walked about with the hay in her hands, trying to lure the cows with her own method, and cheering me on like a soccer coach as I ran wildly about the field like I knew anything about herding cows.
“Do you have a tranquilizer?” I yelled down the hill. “Or a lasso?”
My mom laughed. “I wish!”
At this point she had nearly lured the smallest cow, Chump, back through the gate with the hay.
“Get behind him!” she yelled, so I came running with the branch and guided him through the fence. As she stood there, the first cow that escaped through the hole made his way back through into Candyland, and he came bolting down the hill toward my mom.
“Mom, he’s coming down! Get out of the way!” I yelled, and my mom opened up the fence to let him through. He and Chump were munching on the grain near the opening of the gate when we saw the other two cows running back from the orchard. I ran out of the way and then behind them with the branch, pushing them through the gate as my mom held it open while trying to keep the other cows inside.
It seemed a sort of miracle that they all cooperated. What a boring field they live in compared to the rest of the countryside, with its orchards of soggy leaves and walnut shells, and hills of soft green grass.
My mom applauded the cows for returning while I fastened the chain, wary of their horns and big, slimy tongues. We headed to the barn to get reinforcements for the fence and started laughing uncontrollably. My mom was nearly crying. “Mom, we just herded cows together,” I said, and we just kept laughing with our hearts pounding while we ran through the mud to the barn before the cows could come running down the hill after us.