The Roundup

Yesterday was one of those days that made me wonder for a while “Why exactly did we leave our desk jobs and come here?”  It started out as a very nice day; above average in fact.  Rick was at the church where he and some of the other guys are building a swing before Vacation Bible School starts next week.

I had a wonderful, peaceful day in progress.  After a leisurely start to the morning (OK it was actually late morning when I got up and got started if you want to be precise)  I was working on my latest quilt with soft music playing in the background.

I had a lovely, quiet lunch of the left over stir-fry from the night before with garden fresh vegetables which was delicious if I must say so myself.  The ringing phone interrupted my solitary reverie and then, to put it bluntly, all hell broke loose.  The phone call was our friend and neighbor Cindy informing me that Nick the bull and T Bone the steer were in her yard.  In case you were wondering, that is not where we left them.  I should explain here that we relocated the boys about two months ago to our neighbor Marjorie’s pasture.

Marjorie has a very lush pasture that she rents out.  It was available and a perfect fit for us as we needed to separate Dusty the cow from Nick the bull.  In case you are not familiar with bovine reproduction, cows can be bred back VERY quickly after giving birth; eight days later in fact.  While we do plan to breed Dusty with Nick for another calf, we don’t want the calf to be born in February so a separation is necessary.  The boys needed some fresh grass and we still don’t have our lower pasture fenced yet, so Marjorie’s place was great.  We worked a few days putting in T posts and pulling wire for an electric fence to make paddocks inside the larger pasture, hooked up the solar charger and we were in business.  Nick and T Bone had already eaten down the first paddock and we had moved them about three weeks ago to the next one which is bordered on one side by woods.

This was great because it would give the boys some shade in the sweltering summer heat (it has been in the 70’s regularly and made it all the way to 90 for two days).  So, the boys were supposed to be at Marjorie’s and they were instead roaming free about a mile away at Cindy’s.  I put on my shoes, grabbed my keys and ran out the door.  When I arrived at Joel and Cindy’s Nick and T Bone were wandering around in the woods at the edge of the gravel road in front of their house.  I coaxed them over to me with the enticement of the apple oat treats I had picked up out of the back of the Scout as I left home.  Nick and T Bone are both pretty friendly for cattle used to living in a pasture, and they love treats.

When we go over to Marjorie’s to check on them and give them fresh water, they come running to us because they know they will get some treats.  So, even though they were now wandering free, getting them to come to me was no problem as I had the treats.  What I did not have with me was the cattle trailer, so we could load them inside and take them back to the pasture where they belonged.  Rick would have to bring the trailer and he was still working at the church and didn’t even know the cattle were loose.  I could have called him on his cell phone to let him in on the news and strategize about how to handle this situation except there is little-to-no cell phone service here. If we are going to be somewhere local we never take our cell phones because they don’t work.  So, while I entertained Nick and T Bone with treats and tried to keep them from wandering off through the woods, Cindy drove over to the church to tell Rick what was going on.  Cindy was back in a few minutes and Rick was right behind her.  Nick and T Bone came running over to Rick and his truck figuring he might have more treats for them.  He didn’t.  Rick agreed the best way to get the boys back where they belonged was to get the trailer and load them up.  We discussed trying to lead them back, but it was over a mile and there was no clear trail we would just be heading off through the woods which is an adventure in itself even without the cattle.  So, Rick went back to our house to hitch up the trailer and Cindy, Joel and their boys and I were left to babysit the bovines.

I should point out that Joel and Cindy and their boys had met our boys before.  In fact, they sometimes bring over fresh orchard grass for them – they do know the way to Nick and T Bone’s heart.  And luckily, Cindy grew up on her parent’s small farm and was pretty accustomed to cattle getting out and needing to be put back in.  At this point I was thinking “This shouldn’t be too bad.  Rick will hitch the trailer, we will load them in and be on our way.”  I was wrong.  First off, I forgot that the last time we used the trailer it was to pick up this really cool 1940’s vintage refrigerator that another friend had given us.  I’m going to use it as a display / storage piece some day.  Right now however, it was still sitting on the dolly in the trailer.  So, Rick had to unload the refrigerator, then hook up the trailer, then go get a couple of flakes of hay and the big apple oat treat container.

Meanwhile back at Joel and Cindy’s, I had run out of treats for Nick and T Bone and they were getting very restless.  Since I had no more treats to offer, they decided to see what they could find elsewhere and headed to Joel and Cindy’s yard.  Joel and Cindy have a wonderful garden which supplies them with most of their food and they also keep ducks for eggs.

Nick and T Bone are not respecters of private property.  They headed straight for the area where the ducks are.  Joel and I managed to keep them out of the garden and away from the ducks and Cindy found some oats in her kitchen to try as an alternative enticement.  We were able to get them out of their yard and back onto the gravel road.  With no interest in the oats, the duo decided to continue their adventure in the next neighbor’s yard.  They headed straight for Joe’s a few hundred yards down the road.  By this time another neighbor had showed up on his bicycle to try and help.  For a few minutes with Riley’s help it looked like we might be able to contain them in Joe’s driveway area, but then Nick and T Bone did a dash around Joe’s house where they were startled to encounter Joe’s dog.  That was all it took and they headed north crashing through the woods.

You might not think so looking at their stubby legs and bulky bodies, but let me tell you, with the right incentive those bovines can move.  And apparently being herded by an assortment of neighbors old and young armed with sticks and ropes, one on a bicycle and others afoot was the incentive they needed because move they did.  Through the trees and undergrowth and berries blazing their own trail.  Our woods are pretty dense, especially this time of year, and it was hard to keep up with them as they thundered through the trees.

The nettles, berry thorns, stumps and downed trees that hampered us didn’t seem to slow them down at all.  In minutes they were out of sight and sound.  You wouldn’t think that a couple of thousand pounds of Angus on the hoof could just disappear into the woods, but they did.  It was right about this time that Rick pulled up with the trailer only to find the cattle gone.

So we all set out through the woods trying to find the missing pair.  I should mention here we have wonderful neighbors.  A very hardy lot who are accustomed to the difficult terrain and unexpected adventures.    All of them much more self-sufficient woodsmen than I am.  As I made my way deeper into the woods calling and shaking my jar of replenished treats, I was wishing I had thought to grab my summer work shirt when I ran out of the house.  It is an old, ugly, threadbare man’s long-sleeved shirt that I have sprayed with mosquito repellant.  Perfect for protecting your arms from the nettles, thorns, branches and mosquitos.  Unfortunately I did not have it, so my arms, head and neck were being scraped, scratched and bitten regularly.  I finally fought my way to a somewhat defined animal trail and picked up hoof marks and fresh fertilizer deposits, so I knew the boys had been there.  Following the trail I ended up at the Skagit River.  I could envision the boys in the river enjoying a cool, refreshing swim –   I assume cattle can swim?

Anyway it was a moot question as Nick and T Bone were not at the river.  I backtracked and ended up at yet another neighbor’s place behind their horse pasture.   There was no way around it, so I crawled under the fence and went through the pasture startling not only the horses but their owners a little farther down the way.  Our poor neighbors – they certainly did not expect anyone to come bursting through the woods behind the horse pasture.  When they recovered from their shock, they said no, they hadn’t seen the boys so I continued on.  By this time I had worked my way back to Foxglove, the main gravel road used to access this little cluster of homes.  As I neared the next house I could hear yelling and  someone or something crashing through the woods.  I rounded the corner and sure enough, there were Nick and T Bone in Andrea’s yard about five feet from her front door.  Nick the bull had just toppled her lawn chair on the porch and was making his way towards her – no doubt looking for more treats.   Since Andrea had her six month old daughter on her hip at the time, she was not too anxious to meet Nick and T Bone up close and personal.  I managed to distract the boys with some treats and we were on our way down the driveway like the Pied Piper leading my charges and doling out enough treats to keep them moving towards Joel and Cindy’s where our adventure started and the truck and trailer were parked.  All went very smoothly as we made our way to the trailer.  The area was deserted so I knew everyone else was still out combing the woods for the two missing critters, and I was on my own with the bull and steer.  I got the trailer door open and went inside to entice the boys in.  They both had their two front hooves up on the floor of the trailer as they were straining to try and reach the treats I held out to them.  I was trying to figure out how I was going to get past them to close the trailer door behind them once I got them all the way inside.  Turns out I didn’t need to worry about that.  They were startled when one of the returning searchers came up to the trailer and they both bolted and took off – again. This time after we made the loop through Joe’s yard and past his dog who was now hiding in the woods from those crazy animals on the loose, we headed towards the river, but turned left towards the community garden.  Our neighbors are a pretty tolerant bunch, but I was pretty sure we were not going to be very popular if our cattle rampaged through the ripening garden crops.  Luckily by this time, both Joel and Cindy were back from the hunt and we were able to move Nick and T Bone past the community garden and away from the swing under the huge oak tree which was a good thing.

 The bad part was now they were headed straight to Rob and John Scott’s.  Rob and John Scott have a wonderful flower garden which is the envy of the whole neighborhood.  We were just there a couple of weeks ago at their annual party where people come from Seattle, Bellingham and other far-flung places to visit with them and admire their beautiful garden.

They have ancient hand-carved stones imported from the orient as water features which complement perfectly the rare and exotic flowers they have collected from around the world on their travels.

 And the piece de resistance is their raspberry patch which they have lovingly tended for years and which produces the most wonderful crop of berries.  They shared some covered in chocolate at the party.

This is the garden Rick’s boys (I had disowned the both of them by this point) were heading straight for.   Thank goodness Joel is quick, he managed to get ahead of them and stand guard in front of the entrance to Rob and John Scott’s gardens.  The bovine boys and I, Joel and Cindy and their boys, all of us dirty, sweaty and tired  made our way once again to the truck and trailer.   After the dynamic duo bolted from the trailer the first time I honked the truck horn loud and long in my imitation of the old west method of firing off shots in the air as a signal to other searchers.  Rick had heard it and was thrashing back through the woods about the same time as we arrived at the truck and trailer again.  With someone to man the trailer door, I was able to entice Nick the bull into the trailer without too much trouble. While T Bone had happily ridden in the trailer before, now he was a little skittish with all the extra attention and hovered at the back edge of the trailer ignoring my promise of treats inside.  Nick was thinking about getting out to join him so I closed the little half-door partition of the trailer to keep at least one of them corralled inside.  We bought the trailer used, so I don’t know what became of  the original pin that held the door closed but now it was a bent nail that did not reach all the way down through the holes.  Nick the bull did not really appreciate being confined against his will in the small space and did his best to express his displeasure.  He snorted and stomped and pawed and bumped and generally had the whole trailer rocking.  He even tried to crawl under the divider.  I was praying that bent nail was stronger than it looked and the partition would hold.  As you might imagine, none of this did anything to calm down the already nervous T Bone.  The open area left in the trailer was not enough to suit him and  with all of Nick’s antics T Bone wasn’t getting in.  I personally contemplated sending T Bone to our freezer a little earlier than we had originally planned, but I didn’t have a gun.  We finally decided that the only way to make any progress was for Rick to drive Nick back to the pasture – the first one that we knew was secure, not the one we still didn’t know how they got out of.  So, off went Rick, Nick the bull and the trailer.


T Bone was left standing there looking like a little boy who missed the bus on the first day of school.  He mooed and followed them a little way down the gravel road before he turned back and eyeballed all of us.  So here we were at the edge of the woods trying to calm an agitated bovine – again.   After a couple more skirmishes through the woods poor T Bone just flopped down and took a little rest.  Since I was exhausted too I wished I could join him but I faithfully held my position on the south end of the area to keep him from bolting that way.

Meanwhile, Rick had his own adventure at Marjorie’s pasture with Nick the bull.  After all his escapades and leading us all on a merry chase for hours through the woods, Nick was exhausted.  It had been a warm day and we don’t know how long  he had been without water and he was looking pretty dehydrated.  Having no idea how long it would be until we could get T Bone loaded up and he could get back, Rick wanted to water Nick the bull before he left him.  Since he was putting Nick into the first pasture the water trough was not there; it was still sitting in the second pasture where the boys were supposed to be and brimming full of fresh, cool water.  The trough is too heavy to dump when it is full, so Rick had to spend quite a bit of time baling water out with his hands before he could get it emptied enough to turn it over. Then he had to start the hose to re-fill it.  All this time we were trying to keep T Bone in sight.

What felt like days, but was actually probably a half hour or so later, Rick and the now empty trailer reappeared.  T Bone was still a little leery but was eventually coaxed inside.  Needless to say, when we finally got T Bone loaded in the trailer everyone was quite relieved.  We were also very tired, very scratched and bitten, very sore and very, very dirty and smelly.  I can’t even begin to describe the state of my clothes – which were not my ratty work clothes as I was sitting quietly inside the house when I got the escapee phone call.  Even Justice who is a typical enjoys-getting-grubby little three-year old boy said  “You are a mess!”  And he was right; I was covered in muck and mire I don’t even want to think about.  It was now approximately four hours since Cindy had first called and this ordeal began.  We decided we deserved a special treat so we all went to town and had milkshakes in spite of our filth and stench.  I’m sure the tourists who fill our little town on summer weekends were wondering what we had been rolling in and at that point we didn’t even care.

In the end, the only real damage was to ourselves – we were all covered with bites, scratches, stings and blisters – and our clothes which were torn and filthy beyond belief.  The bovine boys had somehow avoided our neighbor’s flower and vegetable gardens in their travels so I believe we will still be welcome to live here.  In a 25 acre land trust which has seven homes, we visited five of them.  I estimated that we traveled approximately ten miles fighting our way through the undergrowth and woods but Rick assured me that was an exaggeration.  I don’t know about that though, I’m sure we looped around and made circles out there.

So, Nick the bull and T Bone the steer are back in their scenic pasture happily eating fresh green grass.

And when our friends innocently ask ” What do you do up there with all that free time?” we will have another adventure to tell them.  Honestly though, some things you really have to experience to fully appreciate and this was one of them.  As my friend Darren would say “You can’t make this stuff up.”

6 comments on “The Roundup

  1. Tj says:

    LOL. It is a great adventure, isn’t it? Your boys are so gentle you need to halter train them, so that you can just catch them with treats and then lead them home. Trust me, they will get out again…and again.

    • Brenda says:

      I think you are right TJ – halter training would be a good idea. I’ll have to add that to Rick’s list 🙂

  2. ml says:

    Welcome to ranching! I can tell you from experience that animals only get out on Sundays, holidays and just as you are about to get in the car to go someplace – or so it seems. I would love to see your neighbors garden (flower) Looks beautiful.

  3. Bruce says:

    Greeeeeeeeeeeeen acres is the place for me…farm living is the life for me… spreading out so far and wide…keep Bakersfield just give me that country side….

    • Brenda says:

      Cute! I wonder if I could add that as the blog theme song?
      I don’t remember Zsa Zsa ever chasing cattle or getting dirty though – so I think I’ll just put on my pearls and heels and look out the window at the work going on 🙂

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