A few weeks ago, in the midst of a thunderstorm, Mike brought home a little Angus bull to join our cowshed babies. He named him Stormy and, being fond of movies from the 40s and 50s, I cannot see the little calf without singing ‘Stormy Weather‘ to him. Bad as my voice is, the calves seem to enoy it–particularly Stormy himself and his good buddies Big Un and Runner. But while Stormy readily accepted his calf gang friends, he has never let me touch him.
That trio of calves is almost inseparable now. If one eats, all eat. If one walks to the reaches of the stall, all do. No matter what the other calves are doing, Stormy, Runner, Big Un and occasionally Charlie (the Charolais) are together…always thick as thieves.
There is a reason I relay that information. I was up quite late last night. As our Friday night-(homemade) pizza night progressed, we watched as lemon yellow cloud to ground lightning in the distance changed to bright white. We listened as the winds grew, rattling the metal roofs of the outside buildings and heard the raindrops pelt agains the windows. We also witnessed our Patterdale Terrier, Fritz, go into panic mode.
Fritz was a foundling, a cabbage patch kid of sorts. Mike found him in the garden one day and he has been with us ever since. We don’t know where he came from, but several neighbors insist he lived, for a time, under a creek bridge for awhile before his arrival here. That makes sense, because every time we have a big storm, Fritz goes nuts. He scratches at the door wanting out, he digs at rocket speed at the flooring as though trying to dig a tunnel under the door, he pants and shakes and gets such a wild eyed look on his face we fear he will one day have a heart attack. Last night, he was in a panic prime and I was awake with him for hours.
I fell asleep sometime after 1 a.m., after which I heard nothing, not even my own snoring.
Sometime around 3:30, I became aware that the inside animals were piled atop me like I was a quarterback in possession of the ball and the clock was running out. Touch back!!!Yeah, well…it felt like that in my groggy state.
Suddenly the door blew open, or so I thought, and I scrambled to get upright to close it quickly before the cats got out to Coyoteland. I became aware of a male figure in the dim light and looked, with heart racing, in that direction. There stood Mike.
That, it seems, was the third time he opened the door; I slept through the two: once when he let one dog out, and once when he discovered the cowshed calves were out.
Yes, OUT, as in not in their comfy and secure shed.
OUT, as in not within the electric fence,
OUT, as in not asleep in their soft hay beds.
They were OUT out.
Four of the larger calves now stood in the midst of my iris garden. Two of the small skitterish calves were frozen in place outside their stall door and Pip and the Painted Ladies now wandered in and out of the calf stall sucking down sweet feed as they went.
I quickly threw my cover-alls and jacket over my nightgown and donned my muck boots without socks, grabbed a flashlight and headed with Mike out to round up cattle, in the dark, not knowing whether it still stormed or what we would have to do to return them to the shed…remember we worked for three hours trying to get Belle back in.
“Hey, babies!” I called to the older calves in the same tone I use every time I enter their shed. In the darkness I could just make out the blaze on Runner’s forehead. “Hey, Runner!” Runner stood for a moment looking my direction, then moved away. “It’s okay, Runner.” I called him again, this time, softening the tone to a plea. He moved further away. I flashed the torch in his direction and made out the shapes of three other calves, sihouetted against the white lines of the fence. “Hey, babies.” They all startled and began to look like they would bolt towards the greenhouse. Mike called out, “At least they are by the shed now, when I came out they were down by the greenhouse.” Uh-huh, if I kept scaring them, they would be back.
I made a wide path around them and placed myself between them and the new plastic framed building, then moved in closer. The calves saw me and two of them walked through the electric fence into their pasture. Great. The fence is off. What happens if they decide to run another direction? What happens if Pip and the Painted Ladies decided to wander or worse, charge us?
As the third calf entered the enclosure, Mike came around the building and approached Runner, speaking to him in a conversational tone. “Come on, Runner. This way. Let’s go back in the pen,” he said as he turned away from the calf and began walking towards the shed door. Runner obediently and calmly followed.
Runner, the calf that earned his name both times he previously escaped his pen.
At that moment he became Runner, the little ______… At four in the morning nice words did not come to mind.
The other three calves, though, spooked and took off in a dead run towards the outer boundaries of the pasture. Pip called them, or complained about them, or demanded we let him in, or something. Whatever it was, he was bawling. The Painted Ladies soon joined the chorus, while the cowshed gang echoed the refrain. If you ever sang rounds in school, you get the idea of the amount of repetitive moo-ing going on. The skiddish calves stopped, turned and began walking to the shed and I went around front to check on Runner. By the time I got there, in the hallway near the stalls stood Cocoa, Boo, Ricky and Runner. Somehow, Mike contained them between the stall gates that quickly. They greeted me happily…or hungrily as the case may be.
The two smallest calves now clustered with the other five in the nursery. The three I mentioned stood in the hallway. Belle was in her pen and now Pip and the Ladies stood in Runner’s pen and we ran them out, listening to their protestations as they “hit the road.” (“Sorry, you can’t eat their feed, go out and eat your hay!”) Mike opened the outer door to the Kindergarten and with little adoo, the Runner gang came into the shed on their own, perhaps drawn to the smallest calves sweet feed they now gulped down with delight.
With the exterior doors now secure, I began re-segregating the calves to their alotted spaces and then entered the Kindergarten to open the gate and let the seven smallest calves out of the Nursery. The adventure had changed them. Yesterday morning, they were skitterish, shy, clustered in a group and turned their backs to the human “things” that fed them. At four this morning, however, I was their savior. None remained in the stall. None turned their back to me. None ran away from me as I moved…and no, none of them is named None.
With all due pomp and circumstance, I was surrounded by licking, chewing, hungry, head butting, attention-seeking calves, kind of like the throngs that envelop certain rock stars or the queen. Perhaps I should have practiced my royal cattle baroness wave, you know, palm towards my self in a slow motion “I’ve got the vapors” sort of fashion. I did not. Instead, when I swooped up a handful of sweet feed, three fought for access to my hand.
Until yesterday, they would not eat sweet feed. They preferred milk. What a difference a storm makes! They were now like our usual calves. Woohoo!
I went to check on the older calves and tossed about half a flake of hay their direction. Six of them, including the Runner gang, began squabbling over it, taking huge mouthfuls, and even pulling it out of the mouths of slower chewing calves. A seventh calf stood watching me at the gate, stepped closer, smelled my hand and let me stroke his soft black fur. Then moved closer for more petting. It was Stormy.
“I know why there’s no sun up in the sky, Stormy’s weather.” I sang him an altered version of his song and enjoyed this unique opportunity. All the while I was thinking, thirty years ago, who would believe that I would be standing in cow muck singing Stormy Weather to a cow. At four in the morning. In Kentucky. In my night clothes. And feeling so perfectly content? Certainly not me.