Moving Cows

The boys are so devoted to me, they follow me everywhere
The boys are so devoted to me, they follow me everywhere

Every morning, soon as it is light enough to see, I move the cows to a fresh paddock. We give the cows a new piece of pasture every 24 hours; this is known as rotational grazing, and it is essential to the good health of both the land and the animals feeding upon it. Owing to the marvel of electric fencing technology, it is not hard work, although given that our pasture is rather steep in places, it is not uncommon for me to break a sweat tromping up and down the hill with a fence reel in my hands. For those of you who have never greeted the rising sun with sweat beaded on your forehead, I highly recommend it.

I often think of chores as being something of practice for me, perhaps not unlike meditation or prayer is for some. And moving the cows is for me the core of this practice, at least during the six months I have the luxury of doing so (the other six months, I have the luxury of chipping ice from the animals’ water bowls, throwing bales of hay over their respective fences, and sweeping snow from the solar panels. Not bad, but they ain’t quite the same). Of all the daily chores I perform on this ground, moving the cows is the most graceful, the most like a dance. The cows gather at the corner of fence they know from experience will soon drop, shifting from hoof to hoof in anticipation, their watchful eyes following my progress. Cows are not terribly ambitious creatures – this is much of what I love about them – but the prospect of fresh grass stirs something in them. I suspect it’s not unlike the thing that stirs in me when Penny drops a batch of sourdough donuts into a pot of hot lard.

I like moving cows because I like cows, and therefore I like doing what I know is best for the cows. And I like moving cows because I like moving, and therefore I like walking back and forth across our pasture, the dew wet tips of grass grazing my shins, my feet sloshing in my boots. I need new boots something fierce; my current pair is full of holes, they’re like ships taking on water, destined for the river bottom. But of course they’ve been this way for two summers now and I’m doing just fine, which makes me wonder: Maybe I don’t need new boots, after all.

I like moving cows because it forces me to pay attention: Good grazing practices demand a particular focus, because the pasture is always changing, in accordance with the season, the weather, the length of day, and unseen forces that I am unlikely to ever fully understand. In June, the grass grows so furiously we cannot keep up with it; it is an ocean of grass, a tsunami of forage, and it is almost impossible to imagine that it will ever end. We think this will be the year we graze into November! But by August it is already waning, and we ration the pasture carefully, hoping for warm September rains to push along the season’s final growth. We think maybe we can keep the cows on grass until the middle of October! To move cows is to in some small way be held in the palm of nature. I can’t say why, but any time I have this opportunity, I am comforted.

I like moving cows because I like the way cows smell and I can smell them while I’m moving them. If you don’t like the way cows smell – and I’m not talking about their shit or piss (these are good smells, too, but are perhaps acquired tastes), but rather the simple, warm, contented bovine essence of them – you either got nose problems or there’s something more drastically wrong with you. The smell of cow in the morning is like the first flames of a fire on a cold winter’s day, and I sometimes think that even if I didn’t covet butter and cream and milk and meat, I’d keep a cow around just so I could smell the thing.

I like moving cows because there has yet to be anything wrong in my life that can’t at least temporarily be fixed by moving cows. This means that either my life is so good that nothing has yet gone wrong enough that moving cows can’t make me feel better, or that moving cows is so powerful that it can overcome even those things which are terribly wrong.

Which is it? Honestly, I’m not sure it matters.

14 thoughts on “Moving Cows”

  1. Awesome post. You are a blogging master. I keep wanting to go back and read all of your posts, but where’s the time? It’d be interesting to see how the quality/content has changed. You’ve certainly got your form and voice and audience down pat.

    Your posts, for me anyway, are like THERE. There is where we’re going. There is where we are headed. There is where we’re pointed. But unlike you, sailing out in the open ocean. We’re still struggling through the surf. The waves pound us. We go backwards sometimes. You see… Most of the folks that are doing THIS had a jet ski pull them out past the surf.

    Do I take comfort in being my son’s jet ski? Perhaps. But then he could want to grow up and be a hacker.

  2. my passion is hockey…moving cows for you is like watching a zamboni clean the ice for me..a meditation..like your writing..thanks

  3. Just seeing a butterfly fly makes my day.

    Whatever floats your boat.

    Also, fragrances, i.e., gardenia, tuberose, butterfly bush, abelia, surprise lillies, lilac, even some hosta, send me to the moon. But I get that cows smell good, too.

  4. I milk two brown swiss cows each morning and evening and that is my meditation time as I watch the sun rise or evening come on. The sky is glorious those times of day and the light soft and warm. Izzy and Iris are always there waiting for me, their bodies covered with the heavy soft folds of cow skin. I too like their smell, it’s hard to describe to the unschooled in farm smells-those who come to visit and plug their noses telling me, “it stinks here.” I am almost offended by that comment because it doesn’t stink…it just smells like cow and earth and life. I also find that hanging out with my two cows makes me more patient and kind and calm, because calm is what they do so well.

  5. Oh, once again, you have made me so eager to own a cow – something I have wanted for a long time but am not sure I have the pasture to support this want. I asked you about Dexters once before and I hope to look further into them and see if we could support even just one. I love the animal smells, too. When I was little, I would bring my pony’s saddle pad into the house just because I wanted to keep a that “equine essence” with me a little longer. Thank goodness my mother was understanding! I imagine resting your head against the side of a cow while milking would be just heavenly. I even like the way goats smell (the does, anyway.) Thanks for helping me dream!

  6. Lovely – thanks Ben. I spent the day hemming curtains – a job I don’t like but with thoughts of winter in a snowy Scottish glen, I had to get on with adding interlining…a meditation of sorts too, I guess. We are starting our ‘preparing for winter…’ routine.

  7. I always loved moving the cows at my Aunt’s farm over 50 years ago. You are so right, they do smell good. Now I stop down the road to watch the herd of Jersey’s that provide my milk. They let the calves be with the Mom’s for a while which is so sweet.
    You can always Duct Tape your boots. I used Gorilla tape on my Muck shoes. It works.

  8. The only thing missing, at least if it was around here, was our bossy cow’s son. His comments on the slowness of the fence runner and the state of starvation of the herd are constant from the first appearance of the fence runner.

    He learned this from our bossy head cow, his mom. She was often apt to comment on the service once she’d cleared all the candy, but not the rest of the grass. According to her, it was time to move. If she caught sight of the fence runner anywhere on the property, she would tell him long and loud, that the service here stunk. She was able to comment for up to an hour about this.

    I suspect this commentary takes away from the peace of moving cows around here. Hopefully next year will be quieter as the bossy cow and her son will be at another farm and we’ll be running just yearlings here.

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