Friday, December 2, 2011

Creative cow-tending

Despite visual evidence and pastoral sonnets to the contrary, life in the barnyard is in fact never dull.

As I wrote about recently, the herd has grown. And for a while, it looked like my cow-feeding responsibilities would end as a result. Twelve animals, ranging in size from medium to extra-large, just seemed like too many for me to deal with every morning.

But then they were divided by fences into smaller groups, which made it a little less intimidating, and it turned out that I didn’t want to give up barnyard duty after all. So once again, since the beginning of last month, I’ve been out feeding the cows every morning before my daily run.

The feeding season started out well. This week has been challenging, though. I thought I’d developed a foolproof system, one that would work even with a sub-herd of six bovines following me as I trek through the mud to the barn. Adhering to the successful method I developed last winter, I climb up the outside ladder to the loft and throw down some haybales, which is supposed to divert the animals sufficiently that I can then slip in and out of the front of the barn without anyone following me as I pull out a few more bales.

But we have a new animal named Gretchen who is very large and a little bit pushy. Well, maybe that’s unfair. Pushy is a relative term, and when you’re Gretchen’s size, simply ever-so-slightly-leaning, or standing with the slightest bit of sideways motion, can make you seem pushy to someone less than one-tenth your weight. Anyway, Gretchen is clearly a grass-is-always-greener type of girl – quite literally, in this case. She dives in eagerly enough as I toss bales down from the loft, but somehow by the time I slog my way through the mud around to the front of the barn, she’s always right behind me, certain that whatever bales I’m about to pull out for the other herd are inherently superior to those that she was offered.

Other cows, assuming a creature who is both larger than they are and more interestingly colored (black and white as opposed to their uniform red coats) must know something they don’t, follow suit, and before I know it, I’m hemmed into the lower level of the barn, unable to push the gate back open because they are all standing too close to it. So I throw out some more bales, but because they are all in my way, the bales more or less bounce off their sides and land on the ground, directly in front of the barn door. So the cows stand there and eat, and I still can’t get out.

Yesterday I solved the problem by climbing over the barn gate rather than opening it, sliding into the few inches between Gretchen and the side of the barn, and slithering my way to freedom. This is a bad idea in any conditions, given that the space between a large animal and a wall is not where you most want to find yourself; and an even worse idea given the current mud conditions in the barnyard, where getting anywhere quickly – or, in this case, out of anywhere quickly – could present a problem to boots that can’t lift out of the ooze.

Today I solved it more creatively. When Gretchen and a few of her compatriots stood directly in front of the barn, I placed hay bales on their broad backs and let them roll off the other side. The animals turned toward the hay once it fell, and I made my escape.

It’s not a great solution, but in the barnyard, as in life, circumstances are ever changing. Within the next few weeks, the current configuration of animals is likely to change – some will be moved for breeding; others for weaning – and it will be less complicated when there isn’t such a high concentration of critters in any one place. The mud will turn to frozen ground, and that will make general navigation of the terrain easier as well. Moreover, Gretchen might wise up to the fact that there’s no difference between the bales I’m throwing down from the loft and those I’m trying to hoist out of the lower level, and then maybe she’ll eat contentedly near the loft and leave me to pass in and out of the front of the barn unobstructed.

Between the three, that last possibility is the one I’m least inclined to bet on. But it could happen. The grass may be always greener, but the hay is always….hay-colored. Maybe the animals will realize that. And if not, I’ll just keep finding new and creative ways to vault over them. Necessity is the mother of invention, and somehow, if need be, I’ll come up with a bovine circumnavigator of some kind before the winter ends.

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