Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Range Wars

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Since you dropped by (thank you, I love virtual visitors!), I feel the need to entertain you (no, wait, you don't have to go, do you?), so I thought I'd tell you a farm-related story. (Speaking of stories, don't forget to submit one to the Extinct anthology -- over a dozen submissions so far, and it's still early in the cycle!).

I live in Texas, land of wide open ranges and cattle and cowboys. Except no, it's not; that's what Texas used to be. There is a 400-acre ranch across the road from me where they can't seem to decide what they want to raise. It was horses at first, then Hereford cows, and now it's a field full of angus when they aren't growing hay. Most neighbors up and down the road have small farms of 5-30 acres and only a handful of them keep a few cows, mainly for beef.

Of the 8 neighbors whose land is directly adjacent to mine, 3 of them have 3 or 4 cows each. I let one neighbor, Bobby, graze his cows on a back pasture of mine for a couple of years in return for mowing the area and keeping that fence  repaired. It's an old fence -- one I will need to replace before I would feel comfortable putting any of MY animals back there. The other neighbors' cows kept breaking through it, though, so Bobby stopped putting his cows in that pasture. My dog, Loki, misses them. Bobby had a couple of longhorns with calves and Loki would play tag with the little ones, chasing them for awhile, then letting them chase him.

The other neighbor cows still break through, and each neighbor blames the others' cows for breaking down the fences and tramping across my land and into each others' pastures. The neighbor who has a bull claims the other neighbor purposefully opens the fence so he can get his heifers bred for free. That neighbor claims the bull tears the fences down in order to get to his cows.

Cody, one of the miniature horses making bovine friends
The upshot is the two herds tend to hang out together, and often on my property. The cows are BIG and heavy and can be destructive. And, depending on what gates I leave open or closed, the cows can get out to the road through my property. I worry about them getting hit by a car and about what might happen to the folk in the car doing the hitting.

In some states, if you don't want a neighbor's animals on your property, it's up to you to put up whatever fencing is required to keep them out. That seems rather unfair to me. In Texas, it's up to the animals' owner to keep them secured. In my county, if there are loose cattle, the sheriff's department will round them up and/or find the owners and have them do it. It's preferable for the owners to do it themselves; otherwise, the deputies will impound the animals and charge a hefty fee for the owner to retrieve them. A couple of years ago I had 4 angus steers that kept showing up and hanging out in a then-unfenced area. I finally called a deputy to come out, who was able to locate the owner about a mile away. The owner herded them back home where they stayed for a couple of days before they showed up back here again. It took a second notice from the sheriff's department before the owner decided it was in his best interest to keep his cows home.

I'm not going to force the issue with my 2 neighbors -- for now. I could be melodramatic and say it's because it's Texas, and out here everyone owns a rifle, but while everyone out here DOES own a rifle and many people shoot them off regularly, we're actually a pretty civilized bunch (although where I lived 20 years ago -- about 100 miles from here -- I really would have been worried about someone shooting me for raising a ruckus). I know the cows well enough now that when I see the cows on my land, I call up one or the other of the neighbors. They come out and check the fence then do a cosmetic repair that doesn't fool the cows for one minute and the cows push over the fence and wander back here again. Repeat cycle. It's apparently too much work and too much expense to fix the fence properly. When I'm ready to start running my own animals in that pasture, I'll bite the bullet and put up a new fence myself.

Until then, I'm caught in the middle of a good, old-fashioned range war. As I said, it's Texas!


Matt said...

I remember seeing cows in the fields when I was little. They were covered in flies. A cow nipped its butt and a blanket of flies flew off its back and quickly returned, like an ocean surf. Poor guy.

Wilkins MacQueen said...

I used a very cheap and efficient fencing system to keep my horses where I wanted them. Solar units with light inexpensive wire specially made for the solar power units. The posts look like darts, stick them in the gound, connect the wire to the "darts" - they are really fence posts and I guarantee you'll get rid of your poachers. It is an inexpensive solution. Works even better when the ground is damp. After a zap or two no cow will go near it. No bull!

Wilkins MacQueen said...

Hi Matt,
I was a master of fly control. A little apple cidar vinegar in the water, a quick spray with vinegar and water on the animal and I bought wonderful fly catchers. Stinky ampules in plastic bags, you break them in the bag, fill them with water and hang them anywhere. Bang, you are insect free. Picking or spreading the droppings daily reduce fly populations.
The bags are the best. Phermones are the attractanct. Once the little bug-ers get inside they can't escape. Each bag lasts the entire season.
I need to get a ranch page up on my blog.

Whirlochre said...

Ok, now I have visions of you in a pair of leather dusters.

Sylvia said...

Oooer, Whirl!

Phoenix said...

Hate to disappoint you both, but I rarely dust.