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Wed, Oct. 23

Life in the Slow Lane: "Hamburger!"

Oh LORDY! I think I'm done with my cows, hence the title of this post. I just can't deal with their never-ending search for ways to get to my very expensive, mostly organic bird food! How could I have lived most of my life never realizing how crafty and intelligent bovines are? Or how persistent! They never accept defeat.

Just when I think I have them contained, one of them figures out a new way to get around the barrier, lock, blockade, gate or fence.

It was the turkey coop wall this time. As I mentioned in my previous post, my coop is less than stellar in the first place. Although it stands in the center of my open pole barn. One side is up against the corrugated metal barn siding, but the other three are 6 foot chain link panels bolted together.

There's only chicken wire for roofing.

So I thought I was being clever -- at least more clever than a cow -- when I left the turkey food in their coop yesterday and pulled the very heavy metal feeder trough (thank you Don Goddard!) in front of the door. I mean, it's too heavy for the cows to push far, and even if they did push it where would it go but forward? Forward means it would still be blocking the open door.

And cows don't pull things, right? Wrong. Sort of.

Although cows don't have fingers or toes, Elsie has a very big nose and an extremely hard head. I'm guessing she put her head between the trough and the chain link panel, thinking to lever the trough back from the doorway. But as she shoved it wasn't the trough that moved, it was the wall. At that point the little light bulb must have gone on over her head, because -- I am not joking -- she somehow got her head positioned just so and LIFTED the panel. How do I know this is what happened?

Because two of the bird food bowls were in the exact place I'd left them, empty of course, while the fence panel was behind them. That could only have happened if she'd lifted the panel over them. Once the fence was away from the trough, it was an easy saunter for the cows to walk in through the coop door and empty the rest of the feeders.

However, they didn't make a clean getaway. Both Georgie and Hannah Mae, who even at her young age votes wholeheartedly for eating grain instead of milk, managed to exit, maneuvering into the sharp right turn between the trough and the wall.

Elsie was too big to make that tight a turn. She was standing in the doorway when I found her, her face dusty and a contented look filling her eyes. This morning the coop has a second front panel, so any attempt at pushing will only drive panel one back into panel two, and a new attempt at a barrier across its door.

Hamburger! I reminded the cows that the dogs they love are on the BARF (bones and raw food) diet, and both dogs just love hamburger.

Speaking of the dogs, Moosie has been self-policing since his "Incident", refusing to come down to the pasture without me. And something about the whatever-it-was that broke into the turkey coop flipped a switch in Bear. Over this last week he's become "Bear, the Livestock Guardian Dog".

Like Moosie, Bear is a rescue. The powers-that-be believe he's a Hungarian Kuvasz, the breed from which the Great Pyrenees descend. The description fits: "Quick to grow, slow to mature. Almost impervious to inclement weather." Yep, that's Bear.

Bear upon arrival at the Farm

He was found south of the Grand Canyon after having been shot (although not badly injured). There was a time when I would never have condoned such a thing. These days, I not only condone it but I can imagine shooting a strange dog that invaded my property, especially one as large as Bear. Not knowing the dog, but knowing just how expensive my birds are and how very little profit there is in them, protecting my livestock is far more important than approaching a potentially dangerous dog.

It was through the miracle of the internet and mutual friends that Bear came to live here with his best bud Moosie. I took him because of Tango, my first experiment with a Livestock Guardian breed.

He was an Anatolian/Pyrenees cross and had been trained to his job. Oh, how I loved Tango! He was fast, reaching at least 35 miles per hour in his sprints; he used to race along the fence line, keeping pace with the cars on Page Springs Road, and let me say no one goes 35 miles an hour along my road.

Forty, sixty, even motorcycles going close to a hundred, yes. Thirty-five, no. One day I watched him go from a sound sleep to biting at a coyote's tail across the pasture in less than thirty seconds. He drove a Black Hawk into the ditch. It nearly drowned. He had just one quirk, one similar to the cows.

At about 2:00 PM he'd offer me a jaunty salute, find a new hole in the exterior fence and go for a walk, usually a twenty mile walk. Later, I'd get the call that began with, "I found your dog...". Tango now lives in on a 2 acre farm that has an inescapable iron fence.

As for Bear, I've been waiting for some sign that he even has the guardian gene. It like writing. You either have the talent or you don't, and no amount of training or technique will help if you don't have it. So, as the months passed, I grew more convinced that Bear had been dumped by his original owner/breeder because he was a failure and the owner didn't need one more expensive mouth to feed. Then this week, out of disaster came success.

Whatever-it-is has been trying to come back, and Bear is determined not to allow it. Breaching the coop seems to have been an insult he cannot t tolerate.

He now spending his nights down by the far bar, near the turkeys. I think it helps that the local coyote pack has been walking the fences at night, yipping and going on, adding injury to the insult. With Moosie holding back, Bear has stepped forward and I couldn't be more pleased. Good boy!

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