Life on a Blue Ridge Farm – Gettin’ The Cows

Part of my cousin’s after school chores included “gettin’ the cows”. An hour or so before milking time started he made his way into the pasture to round up the herd and drive it slowly but deliberately toward the milk house. More often than not I accompanied him in the endeavor.

Now this was not hard labor, the cows knew that when two boys showed up in their field that it was time to bunch up and head toward the barn and so they did their part. On occasion a freshly graduated heifer-to-cow, who hadn’t quite gotten the lay of the land, rebelled and went off in another direction. One of us would spot the rebel and return her to the the herd while it kept trudging on. Really, the only danger in this chore was mis-stepping. A herd this large often left a mine field of manure in it’s path, so you learned to be diligent in checking your course.

When I was nine, I accompanied my father to Bristol where we stopped by a motorcycle dealership, at my urging, I might add. There I saw it! A Honda Minitrail 50, a Honda mini bike. I swung a leg over and it fit me perfectly! My mind started racing! A nine-year-old, a mini bike and a 300 acre farm, a match made in heaven!

Back at the farm I shared my fantastic find with my cousin and the begging, pleading, cajoling and the “I’ll do anythings” started to pile up in the pre-Christmas season. Christmas morning arrived, and it took it’s sweet time I might add, and there under the tree was a bright, shiny red and white Honda mini bike! Turns out there was one under my cousin’s tree as well. Man, we were set! Our mothers bundled us up and we took off, racing over the flat parts of the fields and exploring the far corners of the property that we never summoned our feet to carry us.

Then it happened, innovation struck like a gasoline-fueled lightening bolt. Cows don’t recognize holidays and the milking had to continue, Christmas or not. So my cousin and I mounted our trusty steeds and went to get the cows. We made it to the herd in record time, one of us was able to mind the edge of the bunch as it made its way to head off strays while the other drove from behind. The trip to the milk house took just as long, cows have their own pace and you just have to go with that, so we were riding and pausing, riding and pausing until we got to the barn.  But all-in-all, “gettin’” the cows was much faster and more efficient than ever before.

After about a month my uncle starting noticing this and he noticed a couple of other things as well. First he saw that we could get to just about any place on the farm on just a sip of gas, much less than what it would take a tractor or pickup truck. And second, the ease of passage.

When the cows saw a tractor or pickup truck coming they had learned that, more often than not, the pilot had something good for them. Special feed, a salt block for a good community lick or something equally as valuable. Problem was that when the cows saw you coming they would bunch up at the gate, awaiting your arrival. Which made your arrival almost impossible.

While most of the cattle were genuinely interested in what you had for them, for some it was just a ruse. To them the squeaking of the gate hinges was the clarion call to freedom. Greener pastures, roads less traveled, whatever sparked their bovine imaginations. When the gate swung open to let a large vehicle through, they escaped and basked, at least momentarily, in their new-found freedom. That meant the vehicle’s driver had to stop, round up the escapees, herd them back and continue on with his chore. Terribly time consuming.

My uncle saw that my cousin and I didn’t have to bother with such side shows. We rode up to the gate, unlatched it, opened it just wide enough to let the bike through and latched it back. All without getting off of the bike and with zero escapees. In fact, the cows didn’t even pay much attention to us.

In a few months time, farm equipment included trucks, tractors and now trail bikes. For fence repair, searching for strays or checks on pregnant cows, really a lot of small day-to-day farm chores, they were all now done on motorcycles. Of course pulling a manure spreader or harvesting the corn required the heavy lifters but the light-weight tasks only required two wheels.

See, Dad, that mini bike was the perfect Christmas gift!

© 2013, Bruce Denton. All rights reserved.

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