I’m Bossy, and I Know It
January 16, 2024
When Geoff Forester took this picture of Bruce and me, he told us to look like we loved each other. Most of the time, we do, but sometimes, yelling on the farm can't be avoided. Here's why
“Tell me what you just heard,” I asked.
“As soon as Kavi goes through the gate, close it,” Matt replied. “Put her in the front of the pen and shut her in.”
I smiled, gave him a quick nod, shook the grain bucket, and called the cattle. Seven pregnant cows ran toward the holding pen, and when Kavi was through the gate, Matt shut it and pushed her to the front of the pen. We needed to corral Kavi because her first pregnancy test was inconclusive, so the vet was coming that day to take blood for the second time.
Not all cow-wrangling events go so smoothly. Most of my cattle are comfortable around people, but some would rather jump over gates than cooperate. Kavi sometimes jumps, so it was critical to get her in the front of the pen, where the gates are higher before she decided to take flight.
Cows can jump, often better than horses. Mostly, they jump because they are frightened, but Crazy Daisy, a 2-year-old Scottish Highland cow, would jump fences and gates just for fun. Once out, she’d wander the farm, waiting to be put back in with the other cows. It was like a game for her. There is more variety among cattle than you’d think.
Not all of my farm helpers know the oddities of cow behavior as I do. I watch cows like a mother watches a child. The cattle have quirks. Hungry Maybelle might injure little Peaches when hay is served. Sergeant Pepperoni might kick when someone walks behind her. Emma Rae might toss her head while her halter is being removed. These details need attention.
So when I give instructions, the staff repeats them back to me, so I’m sure they know the plan. That’s how we get the job done and keep everyone safe.
Shout for Safety
Once, a friendly calf named Owen attempted to escape through the open gate. Jean was in front of him and grabbed his horns to push him back, but Owen kept walking. At that point, I yelled at Jean to get out of his way. She scrambled back and closed the gate, blocking Owen. Jean was safe, Owen stopped moving, and I stopped yelling.
Shouting is sometimes required to grab attention to keep people and animals safe. It’s best to avoid dangerous situations, but with cattle, anything can happen. It’s not just that cows are unpredictable; farm workers often don’t watch the animals to anticipate behavior. That’s when my strident vocal cords let out a yowl.
When things calm down, training starts, but even with the best preparation, cows can change the plan.
Cattle Wrangling Explained
So this is what we do now when cattle need wrangling:
1. Discuss the objective – Get Kavi into the pen.
2. Assign roles – Say who closes the gate.
3. Review the plan – Everyone involved recites the plan.
4. When Plan A doesn’t work, announce Emergency Plan B – Carole yells.
That’s about how it goes; no one has been hurt so far. So, when you hear me shout, pay attention. I’m bossy, and I know it, but there is usually a reason for my hollering.
Cow Coach Carole: It's not a shouting wife, dishes in the sink, or dust on the floor that's the problem. It's how you think about those things that makes the difference.
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Carole Soule is co-owner of Miles Smith Farm, where she raises and sells beef, pork, eggs, and other local products. She can be reached at email@example.com. Carole also coaches humans, helping them achieve the impossible a little at a time.