Last Saturday just after lunch, Cowboy Dad came driving up to the house and said, “Come on, hurry! We’ve got trouble. The cows are out and the bull and one calf are in with the neighbor’s cattle.” So I hurried to get my boots on and he loaded my saddle in the Tahoe. He’d called his mom to watch the kids, and we went out to the farm, hitched up the horse trailer, and saddled Cricket and hurried down to the pasture.
When we got there, his brother James had already got the cows in with his four-wheeler, and was across the gravel road in the neighbor’s pasture. This pasture is very rough, with a creek running through it and lots of trees and brush. The view from the road is very beautiful, so steep and rocky there is even a waterfall in the creek. But I’d never been in the pasture to know just how rugged it really is.
So Cricket and I take off after James and the cattle, Cowboy Dad is on foot doing his best to help, but everyone was out of sight in a clatter of heels and dust. The cattle were all running to the east, through the brush and down the steep banks of the creek. Cricket crossed the creek very willingly, but we were so far behind the cattle we couldn’t even see what was going on. We came up to the top of the hill and saw that the cattle had run down the bank, but it just dropped away so steeply that Cricket didn’t want to attempt it. So we went back around and found an easier way down.
We went through an open gate into another pasture to the east, and finally caught up to the cattle at the east side of that pasture. The cattle were scattered here and there, and they started to run south along the fence, so I cut in front of them to stop them. The lead cow threw her head up and got all snorty at me. I yelled and “haw”-ed at her, and she just stared me down. Having grown up around cattle, I knew this look, and grabbed my saddle horn. Just as she came for us, I yelled and kicked Cricket to run out of her way. She was charging full at us to stomp us, but she stopped when we ran. Then she took off in a high-headed run to the south.
I gave up and went to look for the bull. He and the calf were actually close together in a group of about twenty head, with two big red bulls that belonged to the neighbor. The bulls were wanting to fight each other, but the cows were so flighty and wild that nobody was standing still long enough to fight. The calf, a nice black whiteface, already had strings of saliva hanging from his mouth and was showing signs of wanting to slow down. James cut him out with the four-wheeler and we got him through the pasture gate, heading back west towards the road. James told me to stay in the gate and keep the cows from coming through it. The cattle came running up but veered off and went north when Cricket and I blocked them. The bull was in a group of about ten cows and calves, and we managed to turn them back to the south, so they wouldn’t mix in with the rest of the herd. I waited there for awhile, and could hear the four-wheeler shut off at the brink of the creek, so I could only hope that the calf was tired enough that James could take him the rest of the way on foot.
After awhile, the cows had all run out of sight, and so I figured they wouldn’t try to get through the gate, so I rode south to see if I could sort off the bull. He was clear to the southwest corner of that pasture, with two cows and a calf. I recognized the pair as Ms. Snorty, the cow who had charged us…with all the luck we were having that day, what was one more bad turn, really? We rode up closer and her old ugly head got even higher in the air. She had a round white numbered sticker on her back, which told me she’d just come through a sale barn, and I remember thinking that the pasture owner had gotten a raw deal on this cow. Her calf was about half the size of the others in the herd, and her attitude smelled to high heaven. She kept edging off to the east with her calf, and any move Cricket and I made to stop her was countered by threatening stares and a higher head carriage. So when there was a little space between her and the bull, I moved Cricket between them and let old Snorty prance off to the east. She was over the hill and gone.
The remaining cow seemed content to stand with the bull, and he was panting and tired out, so I let Cricket graze while they rested in the southwest fence corner. Cowboy Dad came walking up the hill on foot to see what we were doing, and I told him Cricket and I could hold the bull there if he wanted to go get our portable corral panels and horse trailer and set up a trap at the east corner. There was a gate there that was accessible from the road. So he left and called his brother Andy to come help as well.
After half an hour or so, I heard the four-wheeler coming, so I went to tell James our plan. He had gotten the calf back to where it was supposed to be. It only took about fifteen minutes for the guys to show up with the panels and trailer. While they were setting things up, the pasture owner came driving up with his pickup. We thought we could drive the bull right down the fenceline, and if we pushed him hard and fast we might get him right into the back of the trailer, using the panels as wings to funnel him in. The pickup, four-wheeler, and Cricket and I went to bring the bull and cow along the fence. They were on a full gallop when they saw the trailer. The cow took off to the north to rejoin the herd, but our attempts to cut the bull off were to no avail. He could cut right behind the four-wheeler, and Cricket just wasn’t quite fast enough for him, and he ran off with the cows.
So we raced after him, and of course the cattle went right down into the trees and hills again. We did get the bull sorted off pretty easily, because the cows were all flightier than he was, and wanted to scatter and run off to the west. We got the bull back against the south fence, but he would only go west, and the trailer was at the southeast corner. There was a big pile of dead trees and brush, and the bull crawled right into it, head-first and just stood there, out of reach of the four-wheeler. I thought we would have to light a match to the brush pile to get him out. We yelled and hollered at him, and after about five minutes we managed to bother him enough to get him out.
So the pasture owner says let’s take him west and see if we can get him through a gate onto the road. So we did…but that meant going back through all that brush and crossing the creek several times as it winds through the pasture. When we got to the creek, James was driving his four-wheeler over some deep ruts and it started to tip. He bailed off it, and it kept rolling downhill, and finally rolled over on its top and the engine died. I was really scared, but he ran right up to it, flipped it over and it started right up again. I was glad he’d jumped off when he did!
Cricket and I went on after the bull. When we caught up to him, he was running with half a dozen cows and calves, and they were heading west at a fast trot. The gates were all along the north side along the gravel road, but because of the brush, mud, rocks, and steep gullies, we couldn’t really catch up with them enough to turn them north. We were sliding down muddy banks, crashing through low-hanging trees, and climbing over fallen logs. Cricket was amazing, not slow or balky at all. If she did resist going into a murky area, I figured she had her reasons, and let her find a safer route. The pasture went on for miles, it seemed, and at the west edge there was a valley with a grove of trees in it. The cattle were heading for it, and so I left them and rode ahead to the northwest corner.
There was a nice gate there, and the fences made a wide funnel that narrowed right to the gate. So Cricket and I went through it and out on the gravel road. We found the three guys, as well as the pasture owner who had gotten his four-wheeler and come back to help us. So they set up the panels and horse trailer at that northwest gate while and I went to find the bull.
The cows had all run back to the east, and the bull was up at the top of the hill against the south fence, too tired to keep up with them. Just about then it started raining, huge splattering drops that shot down with hail-like force. We tried to head the bull back west, but he was determined to follow the cows back east. He would just run behind the four-wheelers and slide under low-hanging trees and get away from us. We did get him to the north fence, but he would not go west towards the panels. No matter how many times we tried to turn him back, he would dodge around us and go on. Finally he went into the trees and slid down a very steep bank to the creek.
Cricket and I found a steep trail that the cattle had been using, but the rain had made the clay very slippery and she sort of fell into the bank with her shoulder. She got her footing somehow, and we slid and stumbled our way to the bottom, which was quickly becoming flooded with rain. The bull was there, in the middle of the murkiest part of the creek, getting a drink and cooling off. We let him rest for a moment, then moved down the creek to turn him north. He did move, but cut around us and headed south, trying to walk along the base of the ravine. The trees were so thick he couldn’t get through, and he had to back up at one point and try a different way around. Cricket and I were attempting to head him off and turn him west, but we were having as hard a time walking upstream in the creek bed that was filling deeper with water and mud.
James left the four-wheeler at the top of the ravine, and came down on foot. We got the bull turned back north, but he went right up to the bridge that let the gravel road cross over the creek, and ducked under the wire that went across under the bridge and started walking down the creek bed towards the river. James followed on foot, and they disappeared into the forest, where we couldn’t go because of the fencing.
Cricket really wanted to climb up the eastern bank of the creek, but it was extremely steep, and she was drenched with sweat and I was afraid she wouldn’t make it up to the top, or might even fall over backwards. So I got off her to try to climb up myself or find a better way. There was really nowhere to go but back across the creek. Cricket couldn’t even find a solid place to stand, she would lift a leg out of the mud and then search for a good spot to put it. Not finding one, she’d stand there on three legs, resting one above the mud.
So I stepped back into the saddle from the off side…she didn’t mind a bit. And we carefully crossed the creek again and climbed back up the other side. We found a gate and got out on the gravel road and let the other guys know that James and the bull had gone north down the creek bed. The pasture owner said, “Oh no, there’s no way they can cross that gully! I’d better go out on the west side.” So he took off on the four-wheeler.
About ten minutes later, James called Cowboy Dad on his cell phone and said he had gotten the bull to climb through the fences back in with our cows where he belonged. We were amazed and thankful, as it was about sundown by then. We thought we should probably go up to the north pasture and see if the electric fence was working and everything was secure. When we got there, the bull wasn’t in sight and James and Andy had gone back to get the four-wheeler, which was still on the edge of the gully, back in the pasture.
The bull was in another pasture north of our cows, just sulking under a tree. So the guys thought maybe while he was tired out we should try once more to load him into the trailer, since he was beginning to crawl out and needed to be taken away from herd and kept in a safer pen at another location. So we decided to set up our corral and trailer one more time, but couldn’t get close to where the bull was because of the rain and rough terrain, we would most certainly get stuck in the mud. So we set up the corral in another pasture that our cattle have been rotated to and from during the summer. We have successfully moved the cows and bull back and forth several times this summer, so we hoped that the bull would know where he should go, and behave himself….of course, that didn’t happen.
The bull ended up running into the field of standing corn, and then standing still so we couldn’t tell where he was. We rode and drove all around the patch of corn several times before I heard a rustling sound and looked closer. He was just a few yards in from the edge of the field, standing there staring at Cricket and me!
So we rode in and moved him out. He went along for awhile, then ducked into another patch of standing corn. The guys were driving around looking for him, and Cricket was not wanting to go into the corn patches anymore. By this time, she was really tired out, and I was feeling sorry for her, and also extremely impressed at her willingness and speed in working the bull up to that point. She started balking at going into the corn, it was taller than my head while I was riding her, and impossible to see the next step in front of you. At one point, I was in the middle of a patch and she stopped and was eating an ear of corn, so I stood up on the saddle to look and see if I could spot the bull, but it was almost dark.
We heard one of the guys shout, so we thought they’d found the bull and came out of the cornfield. We began trotting down a grassy slope, and all of a sudden Cricket’s hind foot slipped forward on some wet grass, and then her back end was down and we were falling and skidding to a stop on her side. I remember my head hitting the ground on my left side, but not really hard. I jumped up and begged Cricket to just lie still for a moment. I was really scared she had broken her leg or something, even though I knew she had just slipped, not stumbled in a hole or anything. So she lay there kind of upright, with her legs gathered underneath her, and munched some grass. It’s funny how a horse can still eat, even in dire circumstances!
After a minute, I said, “Okay, c’mon girl.” And she stood up. We sort of walked stiffly for a few yards, but she didn’t seem to be limping at all. I yelled to the guys that we were done, Cricket had fallen, and it just wasn’t worth someone getting hurt. I loosened up her cinch and let her graze for awhile, until they came back with the pickup. They had taken the bull back and put him in with our cow herd. Cowboy Dad went around the electric fence and made sure it was hot, and then we loaded up and went home. We had been out there over six hours!
James has aptly named this bull Blacky Lawless, and it suits him well. He’s a 2 year old purebred Angus out of champion stock, and is a beautiful animal. I don’t think he is really that ill-tempered, but we are just poorly equipped all the way around, with bad fencing (we don’t own the land, so we don’t want to invest a lot of money in building a new fence that we might lose next year if someone else leases it) and have only one horse that is old and out of shape (our other two horses are inexperienced with cattle and only greenbroke). With the neighbor’s wild cattle and no good corral system, it really is a losing battle. Blacky was always about three jumps ahead of us!
So on Sunday, the guys tried to load him one more time and he was completely unmanageable and ran off again into the woods, so they gave up. This morning, James called to say he’d found the bull along the old railroad tracks in the woods, just hiding out and sleeping. He got him back in with our cattle again. The plan now is to daily feed the herd grain in the corral panels, so when we do need to trailer them home, we can hopefully just close the gate while they’re eating and load them in the trailer. Our cows are much more gentle and already come to a bucket. But I’m afraid that the bull has the wandering eye now, and the Legend of Blacky Lawless has only just begun!