Saturday, August 9, 2008

Stray steers and a silver star

The first summer we lived in our farmhouse, I happened to be looking out of the kitchen window one day and saw something that told me 'you're not in Kansas anymore.' Half-a-dozen cows were ambling up my driveway, easy as you please. Although, I suppose had I actually been in Kansas, seeing cows would have reaffirmed the fact that I was still there. But nevermind, you get my point.

I call them cows here, and called them cows then, but they were really cattle - there's a difference, I've since discovered. Cows are for dairy and female; cattle are for meat and can be any gender. Cows or cattle, these huge beasts making headway to my house were big, beautiful and horned. An instant of city-girl panic settled into wonder and giddiness. There are cows in my front yard!

The cattle came up the drive, took a right turn at the house and settled into eating grass on the lawn. My husband decided to take our two-year-old son outside, and formally introduce him to our visiting friends. After lots of 'be careful's and 'don't get close's, they headed out. The cattle paid them little mind, intent on the long green grass neglected by our mower.

After watching them for a few minutes, I figured I should probably find who the owners were and let them know they had some fence repair to do. Unfortunately, cattle don't wear dogtags, and the days of branding are long since gone. So whose cows were these? Who do I call to find out?

This was our first summer, and I had yet to meet the neighbors. I thought there might be some folks north of us with cows, but wasn't sure. So what did I do? I did what every good rural person does in the middle of a minor crisis - call the sheriff.

When I lived in suburbia, I wasn't even sure what a sheriff was or if they still existed. Sheriffs were something out of westerns, someone wearing a cowboy hat and a silver star. They don't still have sheriffs in the modern age, did they?

Yes they do! For you city-folk, a sheriff is just about the most reknown person living in a small town. Loose dog digging up your geraniums? Call the sheriff. Neighbor's septic system leaking into your basement? Call the sheriff. Locked your keys in your car while visiting the farmer's market? Call you-know-who.

Strange cows invading your yard? I called the sheriff. Needless to say, a half-an-hour later the cow owner (it was our northern neighbor) comes zipping in on his four-wheeler, apologizes for his stray steers and begins herding them back down the gravel road. My husband asks me what a steer is - I tell him it means a castrated male cow. I act like I've known that word for years, when actually I learned it only a few weeks earlier.

After living in the country now for five years, I know the sheriff personally, know most of the deputies and say 'hello' to them in the grocery store. I can tell an angus from a hereford, but I need some more help with simmentals and limousins (these are kinds of cattle). Just another awesome thing about living and learning out in the middle of nowhere.

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