The little ones are the real problem


We were moving some heifers, they’d escaped from field A into field B. I fixed the fence and two of us, plus dog and quad when to bring them down field B, along the road and back into field A. This went well enough except for one of them who took umbrage at the presence of the dog and jumped out of field B, over two perfectly good fences and a bit of broken down hedge, into field C.

We looked at her disappearing down field C to join stock already present, shrugged and decided to get the rest moved to field A. We’d let her calm down a bit and move her tomorrow (or whenever.)

That evening I checked field C. Our errant heifer wasn’t there. So I wandered round a bit and finally discovered she’d worked her way through two perfectly stock-proof hedges to rejoin her mates in field A, entirely of her own volition.

Moving cattle is easy if everybody keeps calm. The problem is that young cattle quite like to run. There’s obvious something atavistic about it all. The thunder of hooves, the dust, the endless prairie, all they need is John Wayne. As an aside here I always remember my Grandfather’s comment,

“Hell I wish I’d had John Wayne working for me.”

“Why Grandad?”

“Because he’s just driven Longhorns into a canyon and they’ve come out the other end Herefords.”

But anyway, a big part of moving cattle is keeping it boring. Not only that but it helps if they know you. So every day, I, and whoever was ‘the Dog’ would walk through every batch of cattle we had. Indeed I’d often take a little bit of feed with me. When I mean ‘a little bit,’ I’m talking a couple of pounds for a batch of sixty or so. It reminds them that you’re one of nature’s nice people and worth following in case you might spontaneously produce more of the stuff for them.

I’ve regularly moved thirty cows with their calves at foot just by walking among them with the bag, then out of the gate and along the lane with Jess quietly trotting along at the back making sure the laggards kept up. If she’d been able to close gates behind us, it would even have saved me having to go back to do that later. This is from Jess’s earlier career when she had proper cattle to play with and wasn’t reduced to putting fear of Dog into sheep for a living.

But when you’re dealing with cows and calves, the problem isn’t the cow, it’s the calf. The cows are, in a vague sort of way, rational. When they set off at a run you can normally pinpoint the stimuli which provoked it. With calves they can just do it for no reason whatsoever.

The problem with calves running is not only that they are fast, but they’re not really bothered about directions or destinations, but are concentrating entirely on the running. So they can blunder through fences, end up in ditches and generally cause all sorts of problems. Not only that but as the dog tries to turn them they can run straight over her, or alternatively, they might stop abruptly, tentatively sniff the dog’s nose and then run wildly in an entirely different direction.

Once they start running, the only real solution is to put Mum back in the field, let her restore order and then bring Mum and calf out together.

Then you have the problem of gateways. Twenty of them will troop quietly through the gateway with no trouble, and one calf will somehow miss the gap and stand facing the hedge bawling for Mum. And Mum is standing on the far side of the hedge bawling back. Something like

“Help, help, I’m lost, I’m trapped, I’m alone in the world, doomed, doomed.”

And from the other side of the hedge, “So help me, don’t you make me come in there or you’ll be sorry.”

“Doomed, doomed, there’s no way out, help.”

“You wait ‘til your father gets home, we’ll see what he has to say about it.”

At the same time the dog is standing there muttering, “I can see why they eat grass, everything else is smarter than they are.”

So the solution to this problem is for a human to very quietly edge the calf along the hedge until it can see the gate again. If you’re lucky the calf will move slowly, a few steps at a time, and finally inspiration will strike and it’ll follow the others. If you’re unlucky it will set off at speed in some random direction and you’ll have to start the process all over again.


And in case you want more tales of Border collies and real life, have you read



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10 thoughts on “The little ones are the real problem

  1. Christine Brooks July 10, 2017 at 1:08 pm Reply

    Hi – love the post – can i find you on Facebook?

  2. Mick Canning July 10, 2017 at 1:17 pm Reply

    calves – children, children – calves…yes, it all makes perfect sense.

    • jwebster2 July 10, 2017 at 3:24 pm Reply

      the only thing that differs is the number of legs 🙂

      • Mick Canning July 10, 2017 at 3:26 pm

        True. Children just seem to have 4, at times.

      • jwebster2 July 10, 2017 at 5:29 pm

        which is true, and judging from the noise they can make, multiple mouths as well!

      • Mick Canning July 10, 2017 at 5:29 pm


      • jwebster2 July 10, 2017 at 6:02 pm


  3. Annette Rochelle Aben July 10, 2017 at 1:47 pm Reply

    Mooove along, nothing here to see

    • jwebster2 July 10, 2017 at 3:24 pm Reply

      They do have the fixed belief that if they move fast enough, the universe will get out of their way 🙂

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