On Wednesday, this post was going to be a self congratulatory essay about how I ran the farm for a week on my own. John went to San Francisco to visit our sons, and I was left to woman the farm. My mom, the ever valiant helper and good sport, flew in to be my farmhand, and we bundled up each morning in our hats and scarves and took care of business.
All was well. I went out into the field and moved the cattle each day, the yearlings calmly doing as they were told, slowly moving from paddock to paddock as I instructed. The cows and calves too stuck to the assigned area, even though they began to get antsy with the meh forage I gave them pretty early on. I made some executive decisions about who went where and the farmhand and I concocted long fences to give the giant animals room to roam and find tastier things to eat.
The crux came Thursday, the day my mom was to leave and John was to return. I had it all planned out, and the well experienced - perhaps cocky - rancher in me knew the day was going to be a breeze.
We went out later than usual because of the ease of the moves I had planned and prepared. I rechecked the perimeter of my new fence for the yearlings, congratulating myself on having figured out the perfect place for them and a paddock system that would be simple for John when he returned the next day. It was convoluted but had dashes of brilliance; John was going to be able to add on to it with little problem. Then I opened the fence for the yearlings to pass by. They looked at me mildly and calmly walked on through.
With that, I gave myself a pat on the back and resumed putting on the finishing touches. Moments later, I turned around to see the whole lot of yearlings galloping playfully in the field well outside my fence, headed at full speed (surprisingly quick for a 1200 pound animal) to the hay fields below.
Suffice it to say the next hour was a bit of pandemonium, an expletive-filled period with me racing this way and that trying to intimidate cattle back to where they should be and finally realizing they were not going to go. I then sped around in our four wheeler reeling out electric fence to keep them in one place while my poor mother hurried in my wake, putting in the few posts we had to try keep the whole hot mess off the ground.
In the end we got them contained, posts up, fencers on, and a few hours later, a waterer moved and filled. The whole event ended up taking not 10 minutes but five hours. My trip to Des Moines with my mom had to be aborted and John was left to drive himself home from the airport. Last night I spent hours half awake thinking about the cows getting out, one of those work daydreams where everything goes wrong and your mind won’t stop thinking about every negative scenario. It was a sleepless, frustrating night, but It also felt like a new chapter of my involvement on the farm. I am now officially a rancher, someone who not only lies awake thinking about spreadsheets and cash flow, but now have the added bonus of also worrying about how a herd of large animals can suddenly break out and head off into the sunset.
Yet I also know now I have the skills and knowledge to get them safely back into a fenced paddock, to move and fill a water tank and do it all under pressure and on the fly.
I learned more in this one week about farming and how time-consuming it is to do regenerative agriculture than I have in my 25 years of reporting on it. And for my mothers part she too graduated to the next level of farmhand, now understanding much better how to put in posts and tie up fence properly. Together we now make a pretty damn good team, even if I do say so my cocky self.