Saturday, December 26, 2009

Cattle Fishing - Day 2

Steer on a line

Wednesday morning started with Hawkeye Cindy washing another load of dishes. When a group of black cattle moved across my kitchen view, I knew the dogies were out for their morning perambulation. I headed outside to check if the red steer who got tangled in telephone line the day before was watering in the corral.

There were 3 red steers in the corral, but none were dragging black line. One could have been yesterday's rambunctious steer-on-a-line who had somehow gained his freedom overnight. I couldn't tell. I could hear more cattle coming down the road, so I kept rechecking the corral as the dishrack filled up.

Vince, the cattle operator, arrived with his ATV and Zip the cowdog. Off they went in search of the tangled steer while I had my hands full doing laundry and creating more laundry by digging holes for a deer fence in the backyard. Eventually, I realized Reed could do a better job lining up the post holes if I wasn't constantly changing my mind about the fence location, so I strapped on my backpack and went to see how Vince was doing at cow fishing.

In the forest above the Menotti Barn

I found Vince turning the ATV around in Pasture 1. He said the tangled red steer and a few black steers had disappeared into a forest above the Menotti barn. I like this particular forest because the Octopus Tree lives there. I headed into the forest to find the cattle. At first, I was not sure whether I was following a deer or cow trail until I found a juicy cow patty. Cattle have loose bowels when they've been running. I spotted a black tail swishing among the tree trunks. Quietly, I crept further downhill and saw 1 red and 3 black steers. I yanked my binoculars around, and sure enough, the red steer was draped in black line.

The Octopus Tree must have fallen long ago
and now has 5 large trunks emerging around central spokes

I wasn't feeling confident about how to flush the cattle out of a forest, so I snuck out to an open area where Vince could see me. I climbed a weedy island in the middle of the dried-out Donut Pond and hooted and waved my arms until Vince turned the ATV in my direction. He parked at the edge of the forest, untied his throwing rope and tried to convince me that when he chased the cattle out of the trees, I should herd them up the ranch road by running the ATV behind them. I told Vince I didn't want to drive the ATV since I didn't really know how. Vince chuckled and with trusty Zip headed into the forest to find the cattle.

I followed behind the seasoned cattle herders at a distance, but quickly lost them as I struggled up the hill. I could hear a lot of stomping and branches cracking, but through the foliage, I couldn't see what was going on. I climbed even higher to get a view from the grassy slope above the forest. Far below, I could see Vince walking past the Menotti barn, but no steers. I headed back down through the forest to rejoin Vince. Passing the Octopus Tree, I once again saw a swishing black tail and slowly shooed the steers towards the barn. As the cattle came out into the open, Vince and Zip got them trotting back up the ranch road. Vince asked me to slowly walk behind the steers on the road and he would get the ATV and pick me up.

Charging the fishers

When Vince picked me up on the ATV, he explained that the cattle were getting tired and would probably stick to the road if we followed them slowly enough. We were halfway back to the corral, when the wily steers headed into another forest - the one where the old grader is getting swallowed up by a buckeye tree. Vince jumped off the ATV to follow them and once again suggested I drive the ATV along the road. When I hesitated, he gave me a 20-second ATV refresher: "Here's the gas, here are the brakes". As he headed into the forest, he shouted, "Wish me luck" and I thought, "Wish me luck with this ATV."

First, I had to figure out how to get it out of neutral. I remembered something about kicking up the pedals and got it into first gear. I decided I would just go slow and keep the darn thing in first gear the whole time.

Vince moved the cattle out of the forest and got them started on the road again. I slowly followed behind. I lost Vince when the cattle made a dash for the Woods Pond. I parked the ATV near a road crossing to see which way the cattle would come out. I wasn't sure if I could turn the ATV back on, so I shifted it into neutral, figured out how to set the parking brake (press the button that says "p. brake"), and crawled down the slope to watch the action at the Woods Pond. Through the trees, all I could see was a confused milling of black and red legs, boots and dog tail.

I went back up to the ATV, got real brave, and figured out how to put it in reverse (push the red button marked "R" and kick the gear pedal) so that I could turn sharp enough to take the road to the Woods Pond. However, then I couldn't get the ATV out of reverse. I tried every combination of kicking pedals up and down, pressing the R button and so on. Finally, I gave up, turned the ATV off and put on the parking brake.

Corner pocket

While climbing down another slope to the Woods Pond, I suddenly noticed Vince walking on the road above me. I shouted to him but he didn't hear me. I scaled the slope and finally caught up with him just as he and Reed were moving the tired steers into the corral. We closed the corral gate and then Vince started cattle angling.

Corner standoff

Basically, Vince and Reed slowly approached the cattle which would run into a corner, the boys would approach again, and the cattle would run into another corner.

Easing up nice and slow

This went on many times, but each time, the boys got a little closer.

Fingering the line

Eventually, Vince was able to ease up close enough to pick up the line that the red steer was dragging. The first few times, he couldn't get the line tied to a solid object before the steer took off again. Finally, while the steer tiredly walked up the hill to the water trough, it left a lot of slack in the line. Vince gently picked up the end of the line, slowly lifted it and waited.

Tieing off the line

As the steer became distracted, Vince walked the line over to the side of the corral, reached through the fence and tied it to a willow tree. The steer didn't seem to notice. Vince slowly walked around and above the steer. He was getting ready to approach it, grab the line near its neck, and cut the loop with the wire cutters from his rear pocket.

Walking into position

But instead, the steer charged downhill again. I thought this was going to be like one of those cartoons when a dog runs after a cat full speed and then gets pulled short by a chain. But instead, the telephone line suddenly broke and fell off. The steer was finally free. We had a relieved laugh and Vince reeled in the loose line.

The last charge down the hill

Later, Vince went back to get the ATV. While he was loading it into the trailer, I asked him how to get it out of reverse. He showed me by pushing down the red R button and kicking up on the gear pedal. However, the ATV did not go into first gear. "Oh", Vince said, "sometimes you have to turn the wheel a little to get it to pop in." So that is how you reel in a cow and kick an ATV out of reverse - persistence and a flick of the wrist.

Back to a peaceful evening of grazing.


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