Animals have a number of ways to communicate with us. On our farm, if no level of barking, whinnying, clucking, braying or mooing will get them the attention they seek, the animals will come looking for us.
They know they can usually find me at the kitchen sink. So they position themselves directly across from the kitchen window and stare. They just stand there and stare at the house.
The first time I noticed this was when we bought our two original Hereford cows, Betty and Ginger. The Farmer went through a few trials in his attempts to secure the electric fencing around the property before he got it to the standard that would actually keep them in. I guess Ginger put her wet nose on the fence at one point and got a good shock. I believe she was attempting to lodge a complaint by standing at the fence because she was sending quite an intimidating glare in my direction.
The next time it was Donkey. He was braying and squealing and making quite a fuss one night but we just assumed it was because it was springtime, the sheep and horses were in heat and he was feeling quite left out of all the excitement.
But when I looked up from the dishes and saw him directly across the yard from me, locking my gaze, I knew something was up. It turned out to be a problem with the sheep. The fat little fluffers had wandered down the tractor lane and found a hole in the fence just big enough to squeeze through. All 120 of them went in, leaving their protector Donkey behind. They spent a few hours grazing, enjoying the untouched meadow on the other side.
When dusk arrived, however, they could no longer find the hole in the fence. Donkey brayed and called them to follow him back up to the barn as he does every night. The sheep bawled in response. Then Donkey realized he would have to take matters into his own hands (or hooves), and headed up to the house to get us.
As soon as I noticed him standing there at the fence, I went outside. He started toward the meadow at a clip and that’s when we noticed the absence of sheep. The Farmer hopped on his ATV and followed Donkey back to the escapees. They were scolded, let back into the barnyard through the gate and locked up in the barn for the night.
Donkey was given an apple and a pat on the head for his stellar efforts to save his flock from prowling coyotes. Basically he was rewarded for being out standing in his field. (See what I did there?)
This morning, it was the bull that got my attention. I’m fascinated that the animals all stand in exactly the same spot to catch my eye. It’s like it’s written in the livestock handbook or something. “How to get the Farmwife’s attention: Stand at fence and glare. It freaks her out.”
The bull didn’t make a sound. It was the dog that first noticed him and announced his discovery with a short bark. At first I thought the bull was simply watching the puppy. But when he was still at the fence 30 minutes later, I realized he was trying to tell me something. I put on my barn shoes and headed out to do an inspection.
The Farmer has been gone less than 48 hours, on a week-long fishing trip with his “brothers from other mothers.” I was pretty sure that the damage I discovered in the barn could not have been accomplished in that time, even if the cattle worked together, day and night.
The gate to the utility area was lying on the floor, where it had been busted from its rigging. It was so badly mired in the ankle-deep manure and muck that I didn’t have the strength to lift it. I picked my way over it to check out the milk room and storage. Shelves had been broken by a big bovine butt. You’ve heard the expression “a bull in a china shop?” Well, a bull took the back door to the barn off its hinges, and left a number of demolished feeders and gates in his wake.
And here I thought my only real concern while the Farmer was away would be how to feed the chickens without getting my ankles pecked.
We’ll all be happy when he returns, even if he doesn’t catch any fish.
Diana Fisher is a freelance writer living on a 200-acre farm along the Kemptville Creek in Oxford Mills, Ont.
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