Monday, November 15, 2010

Closing the barn door behind the...

I headed out yesterday morning before church to feed the cows and sheep, as I do every morning. The ground in the barnyard was muddy, but I was prepared for that.

What I was not prepared for was the sight that met me as I approached the barn. I quickly realized that the barnyard event I’ve always dreaded had come to pass: the cows were not standing in front of the hay barn, as they usually do once the sun is up and they know I’ll be coming out soon to feed them, but rather inside the hay barn.

This is the kind of scene I have anxiety dreams about. You know how some people turn back from their door three or four times before they leave the house to be sure they’ve turned off the coffee pot or the oven? That’s how I am about latching the barn gate. I check and re-check it before I leave the barnyard after each morning’s feeding, because I’m so apprehensive that I’ll leave it open and the cows will discover the open entrance into the haybarn. And then, I’ve always wondered, how on earth would I get them back out?

Well, yesterday I had the chance to find out. The good part was that it didn’t have to do with me or the kids leaving the gate open. It wasn’t our carelessness that caused the problem; it was the animals’ brute strength. They’d simply prodded the gate with their heads until the hinge broke away from the wall.

At the same time, this wasn’t altogether good, because it meant that even if I could get the animals back out into the pasture, there was still no gate to keep them from reentering the barn.

But at the initial moment, that wasn’t my problem; simply moving them was. Unlike farmers of old, I bring my cell phone out to the barn with me every day for just this kind of situation. I called the house; my sister, who is visiting for the weekend, said she would be right out to help me.

And then I had a surprise. Maybe the cows had been in the barn for hours and had eaten their fill by then, but for whatever reason, it wasn’t that hard to get them to move. Four of them were in the barn when I arrived; two I managed to simply push on out. Then I saw that the gate they’d knocked over was flat on the barn floor and one of them was standing with her legs intertwined in the gate rails; when I tried to pick up and move the gate, it discombobulated her enough that she moved her hooves and eventually clomped on out of the barn.

Which left the fourth, Gracie, who I knew from prior experience was likely to be difficult. She’s ornery by nature anyway, the one who has been known to wait until I’m in the rare tight spot during feeding time and then push me nonchalantly against the wall. “Move, Gracie, just move,” I said, pushing against her. She looked at me, unimpressed, and stood her ground.

But just then my sister drove up. Startled by the sound of the truck so close by, Gracie craned her neck around to see what was going on, took a step forward – and then I had momentum on my side. One push, using the detached gate itself as a nice flat tool against her big furry side, and she was out as well. My sister and my father took on the job of fixing the gate, and soon everything was back to normal.

This doesn’t exactly quell my anxiety about what happens if the cows again find their way into the haybarn. I have no reason to think it would be quite so easy to get them out next time. And it’s possible by the time I found them yesterday they were sated; it might have been harder if I’d arrived earlier and they cared more about stuffing themselves. Curiously, the enormous bull, Hank, was one of only two animals who was not in the barn when I arrived, even though he’s nearly twice as big, heavy and strong as the rest of the animals. I don’t know whether he’d had his share earlier or just wasn’t interested.

Still, knowing it’s possible to get out of this situation with a happy outcome is reassuring. I don’t know that it would all go the same way again, but maybe I can worry a little less about it. For now, the hinges are reinforced and the cows are full. And I’ll just keep double-checking the latch before I leave the barnyard.

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