Monday, October 25, 2010

Heartbreak on the Back 40

Cassie was born May 2, 2010. Rest in peace, little one.
This past September 30 we had 60 acres come out of the CRP after 10 years. We were tickled to finally be able to graze our Highland cattle on that land. Understandably the grass on the former CRP was quite tall and the ground fairly wild, but we opened the gates and watched them enjoy their formerly forbidden territory.
Sunday morning as we sat by our campfire sipping coffee, we noticed three (just three) of our cows up near the barn. The mister and I brooded and set off toward the southernmost pond with the dogs to find the others. We came to a clearing in the tall grass and instantly recognized it as a spot where the cattle had bedded down. However, we weren't prepared for what we saw next ... three hooves ... a ribcage ... and finally ... a calf head. There was beautiful Highland red hair strewn about, and it was still attached to the leg bones and head. We were exasperated and deeply saddened, trying to piece together what could have happened. It felt like an episode of CSI: The Prairie. 
We walked further, toward the pond, still trying to find the others. They were right where we thought they'd be, and we knew immediately who the fallen calf had belonged to: Big Mama, as hers was missing from her side. The cows cautiously followed us back toward the "crime scene" and we could tell they were spooked. One by one, they approached the calf's head and sniffed, then slowly backed away when the moment of recognition was upon them. That was the moment I lost it ... when Big Mama sniffed her baby's head and backed away. I burst out in tears, unable to remain stoic and rancherly about the whole thing. 
What we were able to deduce is that coyotes were the culprit. Either the calf died somehow, perhaps struck by lightning (the rib bones appeared "charred"), and coyotes moved in; or, a pack of coyotes surrounded a vulnerable calf and took it down. This would explain the cattle fleeing in different directions and ending up scattered the next morning. We've had intense coyote action for the last several weeks, with enormous roaming packs howling and waking us up at night. 
I'm angry. I want our calves to live. And our sheep, and our chickens and turkeys. We've got a few nasty donkeys that really hate dogs. We're thinking of putting at least one in with the cattle and, the coyotes around here are officially on notice.       


  1. Karen and Hank, I'm so sorry. There's nothing more precious than a Highland calf, and to lose one to those indiscriminate predators...ack. It makes my blood boil. We only have two Highland mamas and one is especially fierce for the first few months of the new calves' lives, so we've never lost one. (We did lose an entire flock of chickens while the cattle looked on.) This farming thing is so bucolic, hard work notwithstanding, until the reality of farming - loss of beloved critters - takes hold. It's a hard lesson to learn.

    Hugs...and best of luck on your guard donkey search.

  2. I'm sorry for your loss. Such a sweet calf. That's got to be one the hardest parts about farm life. I lost my sweet cat Quincy several years ago to coyotes. I discovered what was left of him after much searching and also burst into tears. It's all just a part of nature, but so hard to accept.

  3. I'm so sorry to hear this - I feel for you both.

    I've never seen a coyote myself but know that they're spreading here in FL and becoming a nuisance to farms and ranches.

    Good Luck with your coyote control.

  4. I found your blog in the older section of blogs to note. My husband was raised on a farm in northeast Indiana. His youngest brother still operates the farm. Farming will never leave his bones. We have been to Scotland and have such a love for Highlander Cows. This story would make him cry.

  5. So sorry Karen. This was such a sad story.

  6. I hate to hear the loss of any animal , we are fiercely protective of our beloved Dexters'. We ended up getting a guardian dog since we have had problems with foxes, coons (in the chickens) and coyotes have been seen on our property. The donkey's you have instinctively kill and run off predators, but if you don't want to turn them out with your cows then a guardian dog will do the same thing but you do have to go feed the dog where as a donkey will just graze with the herd. It is worthwhile to do that especially if you are losing stock to them. Here we are in an urbanized area on 13 acres that never did sell out and the coyotes are finding us and tearing into garbage in subdivisions while our children wait for the bus in the morning.