One fall I was feeling so cocky about my livestock-handling skills (see “My life as Dr. Dolittle") that I imagined I could go over to another farm that has no buildings or facilities and load my entire herd of cows into a trailer by myself. But looking at all of those X-chromosomes in my distant pasture, reality set in and I gave up on the idea/dream of loading them all up single-handedly. Instead, I got a crew of about a dozen people together and had an old-fashioned cattle drive down the middle of the road. Okay, it wasn't exactly old-fashioned. We didn’t wear ten-gallon hats; we didn’t use any horses; we didn’t even have a chuckwagon to serve us some grub. No, we wore seed corn hats; we used four-wheelers and Mules; and we ran on caffeine and Snickers bars. It’s a lot more fun that way.
It was so much fun that we did it twice. That’s where we strayed from the original plan. The original plan was to drive the herd down the road about a mile or so to another farm that has buildings that are well-suited to loading cattle into trailers. The herd decided that the plan needed to be amended. They felt it would be way more fun to be driven down the road about a half mile before they would decide to suddenly stop, mill about briefly in the middle of the road, and then promptly turn around and run back in the direction from which they came.
Some of the crew arrived late for the big cattle drive. They were to have been positioned in a driveway along the parade route. Their task was simple: Park your car in the driveway and don’t let the big fuzzy critters come in the driveway. The key was to be IN the driveway before said fuzzy critters arrived. These crew members arrived about seven-sixteenths of a mile into this half-mile drive. Suddenly, they were faced with a stampeding herd coming directly at them. We learned that day that some of your finer Japanese import cars can make pretty good time in reverse.
The cows drove themselves back to the original pasture and waited patiently until I came back to begin The Drive, Chapter II. I got my staff regrouped and ready for Round 2. We went over diagrams, flowcharts, TQM principles, the whole works. Round 2, I told the crew, was going to be flawless. We had done our little practice run and now we were ready for the real thing.
Round 2 actually went pretty well. We got through the first 98% of it without many problems. That last 2%, though....
The herd arrived at the driveway leading into the other building site, and then they just stopped on the road and decided not to go in THIS driveway. Oh, sure, they had stopped at every one of the other nine driveways along the parade route to see if they could enter, but this one they wanted nothing to do with. They started milling about on the road just like they had during Round 1. My crew had closed in behind them with all of their vehicles crowding the road. The herd was basically surrounded with only one option — the intended driveway of choice.
Suddenly, one cow bolted from the group and shot through the road ditch, past me and then through a fence into a neighbor’s field. I exchanged words with her as she went by me, but I was unable to change her mind. Thankfully, the rest of the herd was overcome by the stern, authoritarian nature of my voice, and they proceeded to march down the driveway into the awaiting corral. They were secured once they entered the corral.
The more mobile members of the staff had gone after The Renegade. They ushered The Renegade back to the road. Unfortunately, the rest of the staff had not moved all of their respective vehicles in order to clear a path for The Renegade to catch up with the rest of the herd. The Renegade came out of the field, looked to her left and saw about eight pickups and cars, and then looked to her right and saw a mile of open road and unguarded driveways. She did not go left. She instead turned right and rang the bell for the opening of Round 3. The Renegade suddenly developed skills and agility that would make Carl Lewis hang his head in shame. She could high jump. She could long jump. She could sprint. She could even go for distance. She could NOT, however, turn left. I put her (okay, let’s be truthful) SHE PUT HERSELF back in the original pasture. I hauled the rest of the herd home while she cooled down a bit. We went back a couple hours later to try to load her but she wouldn’t hear of it. I decided to come back for her the next day.
When I returned the next day, she was gone. Disappeared. Vanished. Not a trace. Not even so much as a broken wire on the fence.
There were multiple sightings of The Renegade after that day. She did not stray far. She remained in Orleans Township. I had a standing offer with my neighbors that I would pay the deductible portion of the insurance claim for whoever hit and KILLED The Renegade with their vehicle. A check would be issued ONLY in the event of a fatality. If it was a low-speed accident, we would have a neighborhood beef barbeque instead.
The Renegade remained at large for almost three months. Various neighbors reported sightings of her, but none of them were middle-of-the-road, run-her-down-with-a-vehicle sightings. It was usually “Hey, I saw your cow the other day. She was out in the middle of my corn!”
As soon as I went to a meeting in Des Moines — a state Cattlemen’s Association meeting no less — The Renegade made an appearance at the buildings of a neighbor. The neighbor, Kevin, called about 6:00 or 7:00 at night and said that he had gotten her trapped in a building and wondered what he should do with her. He said she was moderately excitable. Okay, “@#$%^&* nuts!!” was actually the way he put it.
A couple of my interns went over to retrieve her. They backed the trailer up to the dark, unlit building and opened the door. Just as they got the door open, there was a tremendous snort and The Renegade was in the trailer. Nobody really knew what had happened. The interns then thanked Kevin and brought her home.
This happened on a Tuesday night. The Decorah Sales Commission holds its weekly livestock auction on Wednesdays. My chief assistant called me in Des Moines that night and told me that The Renegade would be delivered to Decorah the following morning — after spending the night in the trailer. I suggested that she could rejoin the herd instead, but the assistant said something to the effect of: “I’ll be !@#$%^ !@#$%^ if I’m gonna turn that !@#%$%^ @#$%^&& cow loose with the rest of them! I’m not gonna put up with that @#$%^ @#$%^&* again! She’s goin’ to town!”
The Renegade was cashed in. Surprisingly, she weighed considerably more than I thought she would. Apparently she had been on a high corn diet for the last 90 days.