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All Points Bulletin: Heifers at large September 5, 2007

Posted by Joe in Farm.

When we moved to our little slice of creation that we call Blessed Acres Farm, about 50% of the 24 acres were enclosed with 3 strands of barbed wire. It was enough to keep a content horse inside, but little else. So over the past year or so, we’ve been slowly upgrading our fences.

Where the fence line separates our pasture from some non-pasture land that we own (along the driveway for example) we’re supplementing the existing 3 strands of barbed wire with 3 strands of electric fencing. The electric fence serves as a great deterant to keep the animals from testing the fence line. Once they’ve touched the electric fence a time or two, they learn to stay clear of it. I know this from personal experience, too. 🙂 Occasionally a chicken will stray into the electric fence and run 200 or more feet away, squawking up a storm. Our dogs keep a healthy distance from the fences, too.

Along the property line, we’re adding field fence. The field fence, a grid of vertical and horizontal wires woven together about 6 to 8 inches apart, can keep all but the smallest creatures inside or outside of a pasture. We opted for this solution because the boundary line fence lines are nearly completely covered with blackberry brambles, honeysuckle vines, and other varieties of low-growing vegetation. It would be very difficult (even if we wanted to) to keep it clear for an electric fence. If limbs or vines touch the electric fence, it significantly decreases its potency resulting in a little if any jolt when touched. This is referred to as a short or ground-out.

This has been a long process; we’re only partially done. We’ve only gotten 4 paddocks completed so far. To put up the field fence we must first clear the fence of the aforementioned brambles. Sometimes that means removing brambles and vines that are several feet thick before we can even see the existing three strands of barbed wire. It’s also slow going due to the expense of the woven wire. It’s not cheap.

We’re also planning to use rotational grazing methods which
requires that we regularly move animals from one paddock to another
every week or so. We’re using 3 strands of electric fence for the cross
fences of the paddocks.

Until the field fence is completed along the property line, we’re restricting the animals to only the 4 paddocks where we have woven wire.

That’s been working well. However the only real potential issue is that currently one of the cross fences (three strands of electric fence) separates the animals from other areas of the pasture with rather porous perimeter fencing.

Can you see where this is going?

Earlier I had mentioned one of the potentials drawbacks of electric fencing – it can ground out. If a limb falls on the fence and completes the circuit, the fence is left with little charge to discourage potential interlopers.

Although our new heifers come from a very well treated and calm herd, they have been going through the normal separation and new environment anxiety. They don’t come when I call to feed them sweetfeed, in fact they run the other way. It usually takes an animal 2 to 6 weeks to gradually overcome their initial fears and begin accepting their new home.

Unfortunately for us, a limb fell across the electric fence that currently serves as a boundary between a paddock and a soon-to-be paddock that still only has the three strands of barbed wire. Our two new beautiful heifer discovered that lapse in robustness due to the ground-out and went through the electric fence to the uncompleted paddock.

I noticed they were missing from their normal pasture and went looking for them in the adjacent paddocks. When they saw me they pushed their way through the three strands of barbed wire and into the tobacco field next door.

Trailing them, calling them, attempting to lure them with sweetfeed, only seemed to fuel their anxiety. Our friend Jason, from whom we bought the heifers, came to help, but they ran from him too.

The last time we saw them, they were heading through a neighbor’s woods. That was Monday afternoon at 3:00. There is a pasture with other cows in it on the other side of the tobacco field. We’re hoping that our heifers find that herd and join them so we can retrieve them more easily. We’ve asked our neighbors to keep an eye out for us.

I cannot believe that the heifers we bought got out so quickly.

Here are some lessons learned along the way:

  1. If you use electric fences, check them regularly.
  2. Make sure your perimeter fences are sound.
  3. There is a marked difference in animals you own and new animals that you are acquiring. New animals will try your fences much more rigorously than your existing animals.
  4. Befriend your neighbors. Not only is it the right and Christian thing to do, but you don’t want your first call to them to be “Have you seen my cows?
  5. Listen in church. The message in our Sunday School class on Sunday morning was about trials and adversity. I’m glad I paid attention.

Although I am really disappointed that the heifers have escaped (not to mention really embarrassed, too), I’m hopeful that we’ll find them. I do like having cows on the land.

But, I’m keeping it in perspective. It could be a lot worse. In the long run this will not make or break us; it’s a temporary set back.

If we get them back, we’ll praise God.

And if we don’t, we’ll praise Him.



1. Becky - September 5, 2007

You could say “Where’s the beef?”

2. Marci - September 5, 2007

Hee hee… I just read what Becky wrote.

I hope you find them soon and get them back home. I have had cows out more times than I care to admit.

3. Amy - September 5, 2007

I can’t believe they are gone already. Hope you find them soon. I’ll bet they do meet up with the herd across the tobacco field. And they are such pretty girls too. Keep us posted.

By the way, I thought you had cows before. Didn’t you post a picture or two after you husband kidded that you should have called this blog the poultry pages?

4. chickenmama - September 5, 2007

We’re still holding out hope that we’ll get them back, (though no real hope they’ll come back voluntarily- we are those mean humans that took them away from their mamas, you know). No word from the neighbors yet.

I can’t think when we would have had a picture of cows on our blog. LOTS of deer, but no cows that I remember. Though Joe has REALLY longed for them, cattle come with a significantly higher price tag than the other animals we’ve raised so far. We’ve been trying to put aside money in advance for all things we add to the farm rather than get any loans or use credit cards.

The other hold-up has been finding someone with quality cows to sell. We’d far rather purchase from a farmer we know than from the sale barn, especially when we’re paying so much per animal. I’m not sorry we got the goats we did (they’re healthy and do what we bought them to do- eat brush and weeds), but now I think the gamble may not be worth it in the future. Not only do we feel better about knowing what we are really getting (and having someone to talk to if they come up sick the next day), but we are building relationships with people that could be really beneficial in the future.

By the way, I’ve always been interested in acquiring cows from a future healthy meat perspective, but I’ve never been “excited” about them. Beef cattle aren’t like dairy animals. You don’t pet them and get to know their personalities and such. Still, I was very glad we were finally getting them because it was very important to my husband. After we got them home, my dad was asking about them. I told him that I was surprised at how pretty and feminine I thought their faces were and how graceful they were when they ran. There was silence for a moment followed by, “Honey, you’ve been in the country too long!” Needless to say, he doesn’t share our penchant for livestock.

5. Becky - September 5, 2007

Joe and his sister, Robin, used to go to their grandparent’s little farm every summer. They usually had 15 – 25 head of cattle. It was entertaining to watch the calves play with each other.

Late one afternoon when Robin was about 7 years old, she was sitting out on the porch swing with her grandfather. She looked out across the pasture and said to her grandfather “You know, J, there are a lot of fine steaks walking around out there!”.

I can just picture Rachel making a similar comment at some point in time.

6. julie - September 7, 2007

I will be praying for the return of your cows. I know how disheartening losing animals can be…and yes, you probably have been in the country too long if you are looking that lovingly at beef cows, but I think it is a positive thing…not a negative one.
grace and peace

7. Grams - September 7, 2007

Hoping they’ll be rounded up, soon, podnuh!

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