Not quite two weeks ago, about 150 of our 229 heifers escaped their pasture in the middle of the night. They all headed north a mile and crossed Highway 60, a 4-lane road with a railroad beside it.
We have had heifers out many times before, but never this many and NEVER across the highway. Also, they split into 20 different groups which is unusual for Holsteins.
The most entertaining story is that the first group of 20 that we found in town were in the backyard of some church friends of ours. They live on South Shore drive, which is the road that goes around the lake. If they had started crashing through people’s backyards, a lot of damage could have been done. But, thankfully, the heifers waited right there. This family used to run the auctions at the local livestock sale barn, so they were very familiar with cattle on the loose and were understanding. They said that next time they needed fertilizer, they would just call us.
Here’s some answers to some questions I have heard:
How is it possible for them to escape?
I consider my husband a good fence maker, and typically a dairy heifer finds a single strand of electrified barn wire as a good enough reason to stay in the pasture. Working against us this year though, was the fact that it never quit raining long enough for us to put them in the low area that we use as pasture. So, when we finally put them on pasture two weeks ago, the electric shock wasn’t as strong due to lots of grass growing up as tall as the wire. It is impossible to say if something spooked them overnight or coyotes started chasing them or whatever. We had watched the sunset on them the night before they got it and they were all content at the time.
How did you find them?
For the first 4 hours of so, we just kept getting phone calls from people or police. We had 2 side-by-sides, 3 dirt bikes and a bunch of pickups. We just kept responding to the calls by splitting up as we saw fit. The police helped us a lot in the morning with stopping traffic on Highway 60.
After mid-morning, we were no longer getting calls but still missing about 25 heifers. Joe’s friend took him up in a helicopter to go search some cornfields. They found a large group near a drowned-out area 2 miles west of our farm. After we brought those home, we slowly got more phone calls for the next 3 nights about heifer spottings. They were usually just 1 or 2 heifers at a time.
Did you find them all?
Maybe, maybe not.
I did a full inventory that first afternoon. Then, as we continued to find more lost heifers, I kept track of their numbers. We are still missing one heifer, 7591. However, keeping a heifer inventory is like herding cats or fencing goats. No matter how hard one tries, it is tough.
There is a possibility that she was not on our pasture that evening. See, we move heifers to our farm on the day that a veterinarian confirms them as pregnant, with new heifers arriving every two weeks. Then, about once a month, we move heifers OFF of our farm and into the barn where they will birth their first calf. So, there are always heifers moving here and there, and humans aren’t perfect(especially me!). Mistakes are sometimes made. There is a possibility that 7591 was a mistake on our inventory.
However, if we received a phone call this fall when combines start to roll through corn fields, that a yearling heifer with yellow tags was spotted, we would go look. I have a feeling that the dispatchers from our county will be calling us for years if lost cattle are ever reported. I’m not sure if we will ever have the guts to let heifers on that pasture again.
We are just thankful that nobody was hurt, especially considering how many times heifers had to cross the highway to come back home. So many people were probably not as attentive or concerned about their own personal safety as they could have been.
If you happen to spot 7591, give me a call!