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Your cows are out; is your husband home?

Erica Louder for Progressive Forage Published on 02 August 2018
beef cattle in field

He knocked on my door at 7:30 a.m. Muting the cartoon, I answered still in my pajamas with my newborn in my arms. My neighbor, Jeremy, eyeing me, said, “Your cows are out. Is your husband home?” No, my husband is not home and nowhere near cell service. I tried to not sound bitter.

Jeremy was dressed for work in the brown uniform of the cable company he worked for. I doubted he had time for this, and from what I gathered, he wasn’t a farm guy. Jeremy had moved into the small farmhouse at the base of our lane a couple of months ago. He was by far our closest neighbor, and this wasn’t the first time the cows had been out.

Later that morning, I walked around the yard. Hoof prints were all over my newly watered grass. When I moved to the side of the house, I nearly cried when I inspected my garden. It was in shambles. The sweet corn was nibbled to stumps, the beets stomped and the onions uprooted. Luckily my tomatoes faired better – I guess the cows liked them about as much as a 5-year-old.

My husband and that 5-year-old were enjoying a father-daughter getaway. They were three and a half hours away in the Sawtooth Mountains on a horse pack trip. That morning, while I pushed cows back to the pasture with a toddler on piggyback and a newborn left abandoned in his crib, they were getting horses saddled for a beautiful and contemplative ride to a mountain lake.

“Give me one second,” I told Jeremy. “I’ll meet you out back.” I pulled on a pair of jeans and shoved my feet into boots. I laid my newborn in his crib with a silent prayer he would stay asleep. My toddler, still in pajamas, ran after me.

There were cows in the newly sprouted cornfield, cows in the equipment bay, cows in Jeremy’s yard and cows on the driveway. Jeremy had managed to get the cows out of the neighbor’s sugar beet field, and fortunately none were near the highway. Having slept with my windows open, I wondered why I hadn’t heard the wretched beasts in the night.

Once Jeremy and I had contained most of the cows in the horse pasture near the house, I told him I’d take care of the rest. His work rig was running, and I noticed him glance at his phone several times. He was late. I knew it and he knew that I knew. I still had a few cows in the corn and some in the back lane that led to the big pasture.

He considered my offer. Then he again eyed me and the toddler perched on my back. I reassured him I was fine (a lie) and that I would have a friend help me sort them all back that afternoon (not a lie). To his credit, he did not leave. With the awkward movements of someone not accustomed to cattle, he helped me get the cows out of the corn and into the pasture. The gate was open, wide open. I silently cursed the farm kid or my husband – one of them was the culprit.

I thanked Jeremy profusely, and as he drove away, I waved.

As farmers we fuss and cuss those city neighbors who move and build next to our farms. We complain when they complain about the smells, the equipment and the animals. And we are probably justified in our complaining – you’re right, we were here first. But sometimes, they surprise us with their kindness, compassion and concern for us and our farms. Jeremy, my previously city-dwelling neighbor, he surprised me. He could have driven to work that morning, ignoring the cows, and I would not have blamed him. To show my gratitude, I will invite him over for a barbeque, and we can enjoy a steak from one of those calves that caused our morning misery.  end mark

Erica Louder is a freelancer based in Idaho.

PHOTO: Those four little words we hate to hear, “Your cows are out,” are best followed by two other little words, “I’ll help.” Photo by Erica Louder.

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