The first call came in at about 2 p.m. on Tuesday. Eleven of our cattle had escaped from a borrowed pasture at Early Sunrise Farm on Sargent Road in Gilmanton.
The demand for grass-fed beef had depleted our existing herd, so I had recently purchased some young heifers and steers that were a bit skittish. Usually, we would include an older, wiser steer, like our reliable and gentle Scottish Highlander Curious Bleu, to keep youngsters calm and help us recover them in the event of an escape. But we relied on the pasture's good fence to hold them, delicious grass to entertain them, and the beautiful view to soothe them.
They had been peacefully grazing in that location for two weeks, but something must have spooked them. Without a bovine chaperone to calm them, the herd crashed through a wire gate at the back of the pasture. Riding an ATV, our farm manager, Duncan, looked for them, but never saw them. Others did, though. We got phone calls and saw Facebook posts announcing they were in this or that driveway. Tyler Reed, the owner of Early Sunrise, saw them walking down Sargent Road, but when a car appeared, they dashed up a driveway and disappeared into the woods.
We set up a trap of fence panels at a location where they had been seen twice. We put out hay and vegetable scraps and waited late into the night. We came back at 5 a.m., ready to close the gate once they entered the pen. These were smart cows and never took the bait.
There are two pastures at Early Sunrise. There is the hillside pasture they escaped from and a lower field, along Sargent Road that had some fencing and luscious grass. The cows found their way into the partially fenced pasture, grazed and then lay down at the back of the pasture. While they were resting, Duncan, with great stealth, strung up a temporary fence around the field. This fence was only a visual barrier, with no electric charge, and would never hold them in if they decided to run through it.
Before the escape, these juveniles had let humans come near, but that had changed. How could we capture them if they fled at the sight of us?
We decided to call in specialists: mounted wranglers.
At Gelinas Farm in Pembroke, Joanne Gelinas and Artie Snow train riders and horses to work with cattle. I had been calling Artie for advice every day since the escape, and on the day we had them cornered, I asked him for help.
He and Joanne arrived with a trailer containing four cow-ponies and two helpers, Elaina Enzien and Heather Caron.
After we set up panels to make a temporary corral to funnel the cattle into our stock trailer, the wranglers mounted up.
Each saddle had a lasso attached, but this was not going to be a rodeo. The horses and riders moved slowly toward the cattle who came out to see them, curious about these other four-legged critters. The goal was to keep the cows calm while moving them into the corral. If the cattle had spooked, no fence would hold them. There was no whooping and hawing, just a few words spoken among the four riders as they encouraged the cows along. At one point, a few cows started to go the wrong way, but one of the horses gently headed them off.
Not wanting to scare the cattle, we all hid. But during the operation, a car pulled up with a sightseer and his camera. He could have reversed days of work, so I shouted, "Please get back in your car!" Thankfully neither my yelling nor his actions spooked the cattle. He complied, and the cattle continued on their slow trek into the paddock. With the cows inside the paddock, Duncan and Artie moved slowly forward on foot, encouraging them into the trailer. Once they were in, Artie latched the door, and we all came out of hiding.
The herd is now back at our farm and has calmed down. The trick to working successfully with cattle is not to whoop and holler as they do on TV. Moving cows is more like a slow dance where persuasion works best. No one wants to be yelled at, especially cattle.
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Carole Soule is co-owner of Miles Smith Farm (www.milessmithfarm.com), where she raises and sells pastured pork, lamb, eggs, and grass-fed beef. She can be reached at email@example.com.
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