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Taking the bull by the horns

Posted 12/26/2015 12:43pm by Samantha Klinck.

Many envision farming as an idyllic lifestyle. Days are spent working the land, in harmony with the seasons which results in calm and peaceful days; unlike those who have to work in the hustle and bustle of the city, with highly stressful and demanding jobs.

Well, I won’t lie, farming can be idyllic, but some days are packed with adventure, danger, and a large helping of ridiculous.  

One of our more action packed days in 2015 involved moving a bull. We have a small herd of Dexter and Jersey cows. These breeds are great to work with, as they are smaller than most cows, and generally docile. They have so many great traits, I could easily write a blog post on that. But, this post is about moving a Dexter bull.  

This particular Dexter bull was about 18months old, and a real looker. His sire, Apollo is even more impressive. Both these fellows are well muscled, with solid feet, lovely gentle temperament, and despite the title of this blog post, polled. An animal that is polled is born without horns.

A small beef herd like ours needs only one bull, so Apollo’s little brother was going to be taking his final journey.   We’ve taken many cows to the butcher before, and assuming the cow is well tempered, it’s rather easy. The biggest problem we run into is we don’t have a squeeze for loading at the other farm. A squeeze is an area you herd the cows into for sorting, and the ones that are staying go out one gate, and the ones that are being moved off farm are sent out another gate that leads to the waiting trailer.  

On account of our lack of a squeeze or proper loading area, I suggested that Mr. Funny Duck head over to the other farm the day before the move to make a plan with our farm hand over there. The two men had a plan, so I was happy to go along with it.  

Some of our farmer friends loaned us their livestock trailer for the move. We do have a trailer, but it’s more suited to moving shorter animals like pigs, so we thought the larger livestock trailer with the high sides and bars for a roof would be a good idea for the bull.

Mr. Funny Duck headed over to their farm in the morning to pick up the trailer. I forgot to suggest he stop for gas before getting the trailer, and he didn’t think of it himself because the gas gauge didn’t look like it was that low.  

A few hours later, we arrive at the farm where the bull is, and we’ve got four people on hand to load him. The idea the guys came up with was to create a squeeze with large cattle gates. It seemed logical, but the gates are heavy and not easy to move quickly, and because the weather has been so warm, the area we were working in was rather muddy. Some places you could loose your boot if you weren’t careful.  

Strategically placing some small square bales out, the two of us who handle cows the most begin pressuring them gently using our body language only to move them where we wanted, and the other two people were to hold the gates in place. We initially get lots of cows in the squeeze, but not the one we want.

The young bull knows something is up, he doesn’t want to co-operate, and shows us this by jumping with ease over round bales to move out of our way.  Most cows would treat the round bale like a wall it couldn't pass, but this fellow was a jumper. We do get him into the makeshift squeeze once, but we aren’t able to close up the gates in time.

The bull is still very calm, and although Mr. Funny Duck is getting mildly annoyed, I’m not worried. We had until 5pm to get the bull to his final destination, so I knew we had lots of time to get the job done.  

Two of us keep trying to move the cows where we want them, which is easier said than done in the thick mud with a herd of cows, and though the two bulls are polled, many of the cows have pointy horns.

An hour or more later after about 5 attempts, we finally succeed in getting the bull we are trying to move into the squeeze, along with two other cows we are not trying to move. We manage to get the two extra cows out, and now it’s time to move the bull into the trailer.   But the bull decides he doesn’t want to be where he is anymore, so with the smallest bit of effort, he rears up to hop over the gate that is being held up by two people. With a bull between them, one person can’t see the other, so both are propping up the gate with all their might, worried that if it falls, it will harm the other.

The bull, his two front legs now over the gate being held in place, finally lurches the rest of his body over. Immediately, both people that were holding the gate begin swearing and cradling their injured arms. Nothing broken thank goodness, but certainly some sore muscles to show for it.  

At this point the two of us who handle the dairy cows each day decide that not only is this method of loading not working, it’s also officially dangerous. We have a new plan, which is really just the old plan.

The way we normally load our beef cows on to the trailer is we move them into the next field away from the other cows, from there into a barn stall, then through the barn onto the trailer. Unless we’ve moving Jersey cows of course, then we just put a halter on them and lead them wherever we want.  

Before we can implement the old plan, we have to dump out the water tanks which have for some reason been placed directly in front of the gate we need to move the bull through. There is one large drinker on each side of the gate, and we tip them over, adding even more moisture to the already muddy ground.  

We move the trailer around to the front of the barn, and because this trailer has a ramp not a door, we also build some quick walls. That way the bull can’t decide to escape when he is so close to being loaded onto the trailer.  

We stop to finalize our plans, deciding who will be stationed where, and what each of our jobs are.  Once we are ready, it takes us less than ten minutes to move the bull to the other field, into the barn, and onto the trailer. No injuries, no stress, and the young bull seems happy to follow where we lead him.  

Then, as we are driving away, we remember that I forgot the ear tags. Most livestock require an ear tag, even if you are just transporting from one farm to another. The other farm with the ear tags is only 6km down the road, so we head there first. No sooner have we turned onto the road, and I remember that I have my ear tags, but my ear tagger has been loaned out. To the very friend that loaned us the trailer that morning.

Much swearing by Mr. Funny Duck follows this realization of mine. No problem I say. We stop by our place to pick up the tags, then to our friends to get the tagger, then to the butcher. No, my very annoyed husband says, after you get the tags we need to get gas, then we can get the tagger. Right, forgot we were low on gas.  

We arrive at the other farm, I jump out and I look back towards the trailer before I enter the house in time to see the bull TRY TO JUMP OUT OF THE TRAILER!!! Words can’t begin to cover the thoughts and feelings I had when I see this happen. We manage to get him back in.  

With all the events that have already happened, I’m embarrassed to say it didn’t occur to me right then and there to better secure him. I run double time to get the tags, I peek in at the bull before we leave and he’s happily munching on a bale of hay, oblivious to the fact that he’s nearly given both of us a heart attack, then we’re off to the gas station.  

Twice on the 8km trip to the gas station, we have to stop to get the bull back in the trailer and standing on all fours.  When he tried to jump out in our driveway, you could just see his head above the trailer top, but on the road, he managed to get a hoof up.

This is a high-sided livestock trailer, with bars running over top, so it seems crazy that this bull would even try to get out. But he was trying. Our worst fear was he would tip the trailer and get injured.  

The kicker was that this bull was so calm the whole time. He wasn’t shaking, his eyes and body were relaxed, and when he wasn’t trying to jump out, he was eating. I’ve never seen a scared cow eat, so he wasn’t scared, just not used to being in a moving trailer.   After getting gas and having the gas attendant chuckle at us, we get some supplies from the farm equipment place next to the gas station to better secure the bull.  

From the moment we left the first farm with the bull in tow, I'm trying to call my friend to tell her we’re coming for the tagger, but she's not answering. At her place, I have to safely get past her very large dogs, and thankfully, I have a good idea of where to find the ear tagger. With relief I find it in the second place I check. I thank her dogs for not eating me alive, and run back to the truck. We continue on to our final destination, and on route, I call my friend and leave her a final message to apologize for entering her home without permission, and for the many previous frantic sounding messages I left her earlier.  

The bull behaves for the rest of the journey, more interested in the hay than in escape, and many hours later than expected, a good deal of adrenaline still coursing through our veins, we reach our final destination. The bull gets off the trailer with ease, and is so calm, no one there really believes what we tell them happened earlier that day.  

Now, most of our days farming are not like this, but these crazy adventurous days happen more often than you might think. So the next time you eat a meal, be sure to thank a farmer, and take a moment to wonder what exciting stories might be behind that food.