Saturday morning we were bustling a bit to get the morning chores out of the way, since some of us wanted to head over to the annual auction to benefit the local Amish school, being held a mile and a half down the road. Whoever it was that headed out to milk a cow came running back in to announce that the fencing was down and all the cows were gone.
I got a sinking feeling, because the night before had been warm, the windows had been open, and around 11pm I heard an unusual round of mooing down in the pasture. It only lasted for ten seconds or so, then stopped. I listened, and listened, and heard nothing further, so I decided against going out to check on things. Looking at the fence the next morning, we decided that a calf had probably gotten his foot caught in the fencing, gotten shocked, and dragged down a few sections which then shorted out the entire fence; once the sections were down, it was no big deal to walk out.
I can’t recall the exact sequence of events after that, but it wasn’t more than fifteen minutes before we had a couple of neighbors spreading the word up and down the valley while we all drove up and down the road looking for signs of the cows. Our pastors both happened to drive by on their way to the auction, and when they heard what had happened they continued on to the auction where they announced to everyone that our cows were missing, then gathered up some boys to come back and help search for the cows on foot.
For hours there was quite a bit of activity, to no avail, not even turning up a fresh cow pie. Finally around noon we took a break, fed the small ones and put them down for naps, and Debbie and Maggie drove down to the auction to see what was going on and to make sure Chris and Matthew (who had gone back with the rest of the boys) would get fed. I stayed home.
Around 1pm our friend Jimmy Ellis came riding up on his ATV. He had been patrolling up and down the area, and said he had found them, headed off in a direction we hadn’t spent much time exploring. He had tried to herd them back but lost them as they headed into a thick section of woods. I climbed on behind him and we rode back up the small hollow where he had last seen them. We spent about 45 minutes combing the woods where they had gone before deciding they couldn’t have made it through that section because of the numerous ravines.
Jimmy decided they must have turned around and gone up the hollow, which ended at the top of the hill behind our house. There is a county road that goes up the hill more or less to that point, so we rode up to the top and came at the hollow from the other side. Soon enough Jimmy found their tracks (yes, I was amazed), and we followed the trail until we finally came upon them, all five in a group, near the top of the hill and very close to the county road.
We hoped that we could drive them onto the road and down the hill, which would take them almost back to the field they were being kept in. We got them down the embankment and onto the road, and I began to drive them forward while Jimmy went back for the ATV. But after only thirty or forty feet the lead cow suddenly cut back up the (very steep!) embankment, and there wasn’t much I could do except yell “No!” as the others followed her.
Jimmy heard and ran back, and managed to keep them more or less in that spot. And then, very fortunately, Jimmy’s brother Al drove up in his Suburban, and out steps Maggie with a bucket of feed and a lead rope. She scrambles up the embankment, walks up to the lead cow, snaps on the lead, and proceeds to lead her and her companions down the embankment, down the hill, around the bend, across the bridge, and back to the field and into the paddock. Around this time the neighbor who had spread the word drove by, and when he saw that the cows had been found he went out and spread the good news.
There are plenty of lessons we learned from this episode, but the one I’d like to pass along is that we were reminded that a farming community is by nature neighborly. Some of the folks who were helping us are our friends, but many of them we barely know , and if we hadn’t headed off the cows at the top of the hill I’m sure that eventually we would learn their whereabouts from someone we didn’t know at all before that day. Many of them went far beyond making a token effort to help us out. And to be good neighbors, we’ll have to do the same when it happens to someone else. It isn’t possible to live this kind of life otherwise.
I bought three cow bells today.