One of the most anticipated days of the year, both in the barn and in the farmhouse, is the day each spring when we relocate our beef herd from the barnyard to the pasture. The cattle love the acres of green grass awaiting them, and Dennis and I love the freedom of not having to tend cattle morning and evening, as we’ve been doing for the past seven months.
In a perfect world, our barnyard and pasture would be connected and this operation would just be a matter of opening a gate and saying “Git!” However, our farm isn’t laid out like that and there’s really no way to rearrange things where pastureland and barn are adjacent. Thus, each spring and fall, we borrow a kind friend’s cattle trailer for the day and turn it into a jitney service for our beefy buddies.
Some years the cattle are stubborn and don’t want to load onto the trailer. And, who can really blame them when they don’t know their destination, which, as the crow flies, is only several football field-lengths (and one busy road) away, but out of their view.
This year, however, was probably the smoothest transition from barn to pasture ever. After just three loads in an hour and a half, everybody had exited the trailer, kicked up their heels and careened off to gorge on grass.
Life was good as Dennis and I sat relaxing in the shade of our porch that faces the pasture. There’s no prettier sight than white heads with dark reddish-brown bodies silhouetted against the bright green pasture’s hillside on a sunny spring afternoon. Every now and then, we heard a moo or two coming from the pasture — nothing unusual, until eventually one cow’s extra loud mooing reached our ears.
Dennis wondered aloud if perhaps something was amiss in the pasture, but I reassured him it was probably just part of the typical moving day adjustment process. Unfortunately, this mooing became more persistent and Dennis decided he needed to go check things out. I went about my business in the house until I got a call from Dennis. He had counted and re-counted, but each time, he only came up with five calves — and we’d put six out into the pasture.
Knowing this was not a good thing, I put on my barn boots and walked to the pasture to assist Dennis in the search. Like him, I took attendance and found that the calf named Keir was absent. I also took note that the frantically bawling cow was his mother, Rhubarb.
Dennis was already patrolling the top of the steep hillside comprising the meadow’s seven or so acres, so I started at the bottom of the irregularly shaped pasture and hiked the fenceline between the pasture and our heavily vegetated former CREP area.
It wasn’t like looking for a lost pet or child who knows their name, so it was no use to call out to little Keir. He was only about three weeks old and the pasture grass was taller than him, so it was also difficult to make visual contact. I scanned the high-tensile wire fence to see if there might be anywhere a small calf could creep through into the CREP land. But, by the time I reached the far end of the pasture, I had seen no sign of Keir anywhere. I did see our neighbors, Adam, Tina and two of their children. They had already spoken with Dennis and knew we had a missing member of the herd.
While they patrolled their end of the pasture, I started back through the middle of the pasture, stumbling occasionally when the high grass got wrapped around my ankles. This was turning into a real workout. Eventually, I encountered our neighbor Joe, who lives on the pasture’s opposite end. He was investigating Rhubarb’s distressed mooing and immediately offered to join in the search.
To make an already long story shorter, I soon received a call from Joe saying that he had located the missing calf. He had found Keir taking a nap in a little valley not in earshot of his mother. In retrospect, apparently Keir and Rhubarb had not been on the same trailer load when they were transported to the pasture and they had not been able to reconnect.
A happy mother-child reunion followed shortly thereafter and we all heaved a sigh of relief. Joe shared that he had just said a little prayer right before spying our prodigal calf asleep. Joe also chuckled as he pointed to the old Penn State T-shirt Dennis was wearing. In reference to late football coach Paterno, it read “Thanks, Joe!”
Obviously, in this particular prodigal circumstance, killing the fatted calf would not have been the right way to celebrate (and besides, he’s still a slim little guy). Thus, we’ll be expressing our gratitude in other ways to our good neighbor, Joe, who is truly a “pasture pal.”