I have encountered cows with bad temperaments in my life, but none like the mama cow and two of her offspring that I finally caught, loaded, and sent to the sale at the end of the summer of 2014. Before telling you about the worst ones I have encountered, let me tell you about some bad ones.
When I was growing up, Daddy had a Holstein milk cow we named Pansy. I was too young at the time to understand the irony of her name. She was a good milker or Daddy would not have kept her, but she was mean. Pansy was agreeable enough to enter the milking stall for the sweet feed she’d eat there. We milked the cows by hand back then. As soon as the bucket was almost full, Pansy would try her best to kick it over, or better yet kick one of us. She could swish her tail like a whip and liked to slap us in the face, especially if her tail had manure on it. She was so frequently successful at toppling the milk that bringing in a full bucket of clean milk from milking Pansy won the applause from the whole family at the breakfast table.
In 1997, my friend Keith Watkins introduced a Hereford Bull someone had given him to my herd of heifers that needed to be bred. Keith told me the bull had charged him before, but I kept my distance and we got along OK in the open pasture. One day we were tagging and vaccinating calves and inoculating cows when I decided it was the Hereford bull’s time to be de-wormed . At that very moment the bull decided he wasn’t getting a shot that day. I picked up a 2 x 4 to persuade him and he shook his head and scratched the ground one time before he charged to persuade me to hurdle the fence and leave his comfort zone. As I jumped the fence of the catch pen, I caught a metal post with the soft side of my thigh ripping the new pair of Carhartt work jeans I was wearing. I ended up getting a shot myself, a shot of the local anesthesia the doc injected before sewing up the gash in my leg. I didn’t bring that bull back to breed my cows after that.
In 2006 the livestock yard owner Justin McCollum bought me a replacement heifer and dropped her off in the feedlot so she’d get acclimated to the farm before I let her out in the big pasture with the rest of the herd. Problem was, I had moved the herd to another pasture and this cow was alone with no other cows in sight for 24 to 36 hours in a strange feedlot and nothing but a water trough before my helper David went to check on her. I’m not sure if she was wild on the farm where she was raised or if the isolation made here crazy. When David opened the gate and walked in, she panicked, and rammed a bull panel fence of the feedlot repeatedly until she broke a post and fled through the pasture and through the pasture fence. A neighbor called me two weeks after her great escape saying he found her hiding down in the woods beside his bottoms but inside his pasture fence. I opened a gate between his pasture and mine and she eventually joined my herd. Her flight zone was about 100 feet, so the first day she came into the feed lot and I was able to close the gate on her was the day she went on the trailer and to the sale. A flighty cow spreads anxiety to the entire herd, and anxious cows and calves don’t grow as fast as calm ones. She had to go.
I would prefer to ride bareback on any or all of the bovine described above than to be in the the same feedlot, not to mention a loading alley, with the cow, or any of her offspring, that I recently sold. I originally bought her after the April 27, 2011 tornadoes ripped through Alabama causing so much destruction. The livestock buyer told me she came from the Phil Campbell area that was hit hard by the storms. A lot of pasture fences were yanked out of the ground by the storm and livestock wandered for days while farmers tended to the loss of human life and loss of homes. I surmise that this cow was traumatized by the storm which left her spooked. She perceived the slightest movement as a threat and had a flight zone of 50 yards. A farmer actually wanted to buy her yearling bull as a herd bull but the bull was as anxious as his mother. The buyer had come twice to load him. The first time my farm helper David tried to load him, but the bull broke a feedlot fence post, ripped through a heavy gauge bull panel, and escaped. The next time, I herded him into the alley leading to a waiting trailer. Before he reached the trailer, he hurdled over a 6-foot high cattle panel and escaped. The buyer decided then and there he did not want the bull even at a discounted price.
My helper said the wild mama cow and her calves would come into the feed lot if he filled feed troughs on both sides and then walked away from the area and hid. I did that one day late this summer,and was able to crawl back unseen and close the gates on the trio I wanted gone. I had reinforced the feedlot catch pen, added a row of 2×10″ boards to raise the height of the entire loading alley, and had six gates counting the head gate to close behind the cows as they advanced in the alley toward the trailer. I first loaded 2 calmer weaned calves I was ready to sell. The yearling bull of the wild trio walked onto the trailer with them. Eddie Borden, new owner of the livestock yard, had brought his heavy duty trailer that had 2 seciton gates and 3 separate sections. We closed the first 3 in the front section. We tried to load the heifer calf next but she got out the alley side gate into a corral. Next was wild mama herself.
I got into the open catch pen with her and walked around the edge until she passed the pivot point of the crowding gate. I pushed it forward as fast as I could so the only way she could go was into the alley. She ran all the way through the alley. I closed the alley gates behind her in case she decided to retreat. The last one I closed was the head gate of the working stall. Wild mama took one look at the trailer, managed to turn around and charged the closed head gate. She was trapped and was bellowing loudly. I stepped into the alley between her and the trailer. She was 30 feet away. She could feel me closing in on her, so she lowered her head and charged. I jumped onto a board I had nailed onto the loading alley fence high enough for the cow to run between my legs. My son thought she had crushed my legs against the alley fence, but her flesh and the heavy wire fence gave enough that I was not hurt but merely smeared with manure that she had accumulated on her sides from all her thrashing about. She ran under my legs and onto the trailer. I jumped down and closed the back gate of the trailer. “She’s loaded,” I said. “Take her with you.” Eddie said, “Her calf would bring you $1000 tomorrow. You gonna leave her here?” I agreed I wanted to send her calf too, so we had to move wild mama up a section in the trailer so we could load her calf in the back. That would have been no problem, but by this time wild mama was turning in circles counter clockwise throwing herself against the steel rails of the trailer sides and back gate. The gate opened counter clockwise too so we were unable to open it. We finally provoked the cow to start turning clockwise and when she was closest to the hinge side of the gate we opened it enough for her to squeeze around the latch end of the gate and advance into the middle section, bawling and bellowing and foaming at the mouth as she did. Eddie pushed the gate. My son was outside the trailer on the latch side and he locked it tight. Getting the smaller calf in after that was a cinch.
Eddie said after we had them all loaded, “I’m gonna kill her.” I said, “Good. How much you gonna pay me before you kill her?” He estimated she’d bring $1400, but she acted up at the sale the next day and brought $1150. Considering that I would have paid someone that much to take her before sending her away, that was pretty good money. I typically have some remorse when I send cattle to the sale, or at least some sentimental thoughts about having enjoyed interactions with those that are leaving. Not with this trio.
Handling bad tempered cattle gets my adrenaline flowing and creates excitement in farming, but I can tell you one thing for sure: I will personally screen all the cows that come to my pasture from now on. Flighty, ill-tempered, mean cows need not apply.