My neighbor asked me to feed her cows this weekend.
Now, I have lived across the street from my neighbor and her 12 cows for 7 years. I have driven past the cows twice a day, every day for 7 years. And yet, I had never really met any of them — or any cow, for that matter — ever. But, I was to feed them, all alone, with no instruction.
All of you that have cows are probably smiling right now… Yup.
OK, so here is the back story…
HOW DOES THIS RELATE TO HORSES?
Well, really, the only way this relates to horses is to say that cows are very different than horses. And, also, I agreed to feed her cows because she had housed Dodger, Slick and Norma (she had coveted Norma for years…) while I was gone for 18 months, without asking for a dime. So, I owed her BIG-TIME.
Do you have any people you know who are eccentric and iconic and really odd in a storybook way? This is my neighbor. She would be a perfect character in a Nanny McPhee novel or perhaps another BABE movie. You wouldn’t believe she really existed unless you met her. And, then you’d say, “is she for real?”
All I can tell you is that she is robust, a force of nature and she truly is the queen of the block because all of our driveways are easements off of her large parcel of cattle ranch. No one wants to upset her. No one wants to cross her. No one has to use her last name. She’s just “Sonja” and everyone knows who you mean… like a rockstar. Well, maybe not like a rockstar but she is famous in her own way…
Every morning/evening, Hubby and I can hear Sonja’s singsongy voice as she calls to her cows while feeding. For some reason, the acoustics in the valley between our houses really carries every conversation. I can hear Sonja’s cow coos as distinctly as if she were in my yard… Anyway, these singsongy cow coos are punctuated by the rabble rousing cacophony of play dog fighting between her other ‘girls’, her very large and totally scary, twin German Shepherds. The entire neighborhood whispers when they speak of “the shepherds”. Those dogs protect Sonja with the intensity of Navy Seals or Ninja warriors. No one would ever, ever mess with Sonja when those ‘girls’ were around…
Anyway, back to the cow coos. “Oooooh my looovlie girrls, Mama loooves you so much you beautifuuuul girls!”
Then the dogs start their role playing, “arrrrghhghhgha rroowwlwlfffossll, grrrr, GRRRRWOOOOWLLOOOFOOFOFOOWLLOWLLOWOL!
“Girls! Hush! ahhhahhahhahhahahhaah, Moooma looooves my girls!” (Meanwhile I imagine the dogs ripping apart some sweet, small furry innocent creature…)
Then the cows interject because Sonja is so close with the food but distracted by the dogs, ” MMMMOOOOOOOUHHHHHH, MuhhhhOOOOOOOOOOO!”
And so it goes. Every day. Twice daily, matinees on Sundays.
From what I have gleaned, these cows are prized Shorthorns who used to create baby cows but now are just “the girls”. I think they range in age from 10 – 16. There is one aged Shorthorn, Pamela, who recently broke her hip, and now lives in a stall in the barn. The other girls, with names like Sunshine, Stormy and Dixie, live wonderful lives on irrigated pastures surrounded by huge oak trees and ponds. The most recent addition to the group are three Black Angus cows who Sonja rescued because they were “bred far too young, Honey…” and needed to be saved.
Anyway, these cows are her pets and Sonja speaks of them as if they were her tea party guests. “Oh, the girls are ready for their dinner…” or “Oh Honey, the girls need me now…”.
Suffice it to say, feeding her ‘girls’ was a tall order and I didn’t want to mess up.
SURE, I’LL DO IT!
So, I consented to help Sonja when she called and asked if I could help her out. She has never asked me to feed and I knew this was important and an honor of sorts. You see, no one ever goes over to Sonja’s unless they are helping her in some way. And, no one gets farther than her front door, ever. In 7 years, I’ve been in her house only once, when I was handing her a printout I created on my computer for her. That’s it. I’m her next door neighbor… There is no key under the mat and I don’t know any emergency numbers.
To say that she is a private person would be an understatement.
Anyway, while I was agreeing to feed her cows, I asked to come over early so that she could show me the ropes… Where is the hay? Where do they eat? Where are the water spouts? Do I separate the hay like horses…
As I was asking this information, she just blurted, “Aw Honey, this is so easy… you just come over and feed. You’ll be fine. Pamela is in the barn and you can skip her. The other 11 get one flake each.”
I have been inside of her gate once. I know nothing. But, I’m on it!
So, without further ado, I decide to just wing it. I mean, how hard could this be? Sonja told me it was easy. She’s 70 years old. But, then again, she describes herself as ” Oh Honey, I’m of strong stock; my people are ranchers from Nebraska”.
I drove up to her gate and stopped my car.
My first goal was to figure out the combination lock. Yes, she had given me the combination, but she neglected to tell me that it hadn’t been changed since 1952 and all the numbers were worn off completely. As I stared at the lock in disbelief, I decided that maybe I just needed my reading glasses and a flashlight from my car. Nope. The numbers were totally worn off.
I knew I could jump the fence but I really needed my car to navigate the miles of acreage. So, I put on my detective hat and figured that She must do it so therefore I can do it. Uhhhhhh. Hmmmmmm. Well, ummmmmm.
There was no way I was going to be defeated on my first task before I even got through the gate. So, I started rolling the pins backwards and forwards to see if any number was visible on any of the rollers. A ha! There were a few numbers visible on each roller. Now, through simple mathematics, I should be able to count clicks and get the right combination.
After about 45 attempts and then realizing I had the lock upside down, I flipped it over and Voila! It opened. Oy. I was sweating and I hadn’t even done anything yet.
OK… I’m feeling pretty good as I enter the gate and stop in front of what I think must be the barn. As I exit my car, I hear the unmistakable, “We’re gonna rip you apart if we ever get out of the garage via this hole we are carving in the door…!” wet snarl from the Tasmanian Devils in German Shepherd suits who were presently tunneling out of their fortress and intent upon eating me.
I was pretty scared. But, I decided to trust that they would not escape and rip me to shreds. After all, I had a job to do.
If you could wipe out the sound of the stabled Cujos who were throwing themselves against the garage walls at this point, the place was Eden. Birds tweeted, quail built undisturbed nests, turkeys didn’t worry about Thanksgiving, Peacocks fluffed, raccoons raided, bunnies tunneled, squirrels stowed… this place is an animal’s paradise! It is as if they all know that Sonja will feed, house and nurture any furry creature if they make it inside. I swear I saw the Abominable Snowman, Nessie and the Missing Link. Every animal on earth wants to be there and never leave. As soon as you pass through the gates, you feel it. Paradise. No question. Acres and Acres of pure animal joy.
But, enough of that… I had a job to do.
Luckily, I did find the hay (alfalfa). And, I could see the first three cows in the first pen. That was easy. They were the new three young cows who were standing in their area, staring at me. “Who are you?”
I’m here to feed you.
I carried their 3 flakes and threw them over the fence. They looked at me confused but then just put their heads down and ate. Hmmmm. I knew I had done something out of order but I didn’t know what…
I then went back to the garage (hay barn) and knew I had to look for Pamela with the broken hip. The garage is a maze of doors like the Winchester Mystery House. Doors that go nowhere, stairwells the don’t work, windows into walls… so odd. Finally, I found a door that brought me into the Looking Glass of the Barn. Somehow, I was above the stalls. Yet, when I backed out of the doorway, I was on street level. Very weird. I ignored the ALICE IN WONDERLAND feeling of me becoming very large and peeked out over Pamela who was miniaturized in the stall below.
Hey Pamela, are you OK? She looked up at me and nodded. I swear.
I then went to find the “old girls” who were evidently right near the hay. (Sonja had told me that much.) And, yes, there they were! As I walked past the haybarngarage, I saw two lovely cow faces, staring at me.
“Who are you and should we be frightened?”
No, I’m here to feed you.
“OK, but don’t come any closer or we’ll… we’ll… just stand here and look scared.”
So, I grabbed two more flakes and threw them over the fence.
Once again, they gave me that, “Huh?” look and then began eating.
I knew, again, I had done something wrong but I really had no idea what…
I returned back the the haybarngarage to get the 6 flakes I would need for the 6 remaining cows who were somewhere around the house… It occurred to me that I had better locate the other 6 cows before I try to carry out 6 flakes of alfalfa. And then it dawned on me. One, I know a 70 year-old woman doesn’t carry flakes around by hand, and two, there are no remnants of hay on the ground from Sonja feeding yesterday yet I have just left a trail today. Hmmmmm. She must use a device of some sort like a wheelbarrow. Hmmmm. Where…? Where…? Where would Sonja put a wheelbarrow?…
And then I found it. She had used it to barricade her front door… Don’t ask.
Anyway, I loaded it up with the 6 flakes and then ran around furiously, picking up any alfalfa pieces I found on the ground from my previous hand-carry inefficiencies. That was fun.
OK, now, I’m ready to feed the other 6 cows…
WHERE THE HECK ARE THE COWS?
I rolled the wheelbarrow filled with alfalfa to where I thought the cows might be hanging and waiting. Nothing. I rolled it farther. Nothing. OK, they have to be somewhere. I know a 70 year-old woman doesn’t chase after cows during feeding time. So, where were they? I decided to leave the cart where it was and hoof it. I walked around the house, around the barn, down to the pond, over the front 40, I stepped onto a hill to see better, I climbed a fence for a different view… Nothing. Huh? Where could 6 cows hide? And, do cows hide at feeding time? Didn’t think so.
Now I was completely failing at my job. I could not locate 6 cows who I knew were fairly large. I mean, I saw them every day and they looked like big brown cows when I’m in my car. So, they have to be within sight when I’m even closer. This made no sense. And then, I heard them… Moooooooouh. MOOOOOOOOOOUH. shiish (wet noise of some sort) MOOOO!
OK, they were close. I was getting warm. I kept moving towards the sound… “MOOOOOOOOOOOOOOUUUUUUHHHHH, WE’RE OVER HERE YOU MORON HUMAN! AND, WE ARE VERY, VERY HUNGRY. GET OVER HERE NOOOOOOOOWWWWWW.”
And then I saw them. They were behind a gate by the back of the house. They were in a pasture that was basically hidden from view except for the gate area which was about 25 feet long. So, I approached. And then, I gasped. I gasped very loudly.
OHMYGOD YOU LADIES ARE HUGE!
I had never seen a Shorthorn cow up close. I mean, I’ve seen cows and steers and bulls at the State Fair. But, those were tied up with fans blowing on them, they were clean and laying down and very docile… Not this group in front of me. OMG! To be honest, I stopped in my tracks when I was finally up close to the gate. They were breathtakingly beautiful, huge and scary. I was amazed. I had never seen so many animals that large, looking at me — and wanting something.
“It is about time you stoopid human. Sheesh. We saw you an hour ago! We are H-U-N-G-R-Y. Feed us now. Go back and get the darn cart and feed us NNNNNOOOOWWWW.”
It is intimidating getting stared down by 6, full grown cow wimmin.
OK, I’ll be right back.
“Hurry, stoopid human.” All eyes burn into my back as I run for the cart.
As I pushed the cart back towards the restless bovine revolution, I noted the well worn cart trail that I had missed earlier. It leads right to this pasture. Sheesh. I’m no Daniel Boone…
I reached the fenceline and the ladies start to push and shove each other near where I had placed the cart. I stood there in shock. The Wide World of Wrestling has got nothin’ on these brutes! They shoved better than any Kubota. Their heads were the size of my car. Their chests massive. I was totally mesmerized and enamored. These ladies were so gorgeous and huge and proud and glistening and healthy and awesome and such a testament to survival that I stood there staring, slack-jawed.
“Snap out of it, two-legger, and FEED US or we’ll come out there and get it ourselves!”
“MMMMMOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOUHHHHHHHHHHH.” All at once, they made an exodus from the fence line and stood in front of the steel feeder. All six of them lined up, shoulder to shoulder, exactly the entire length of the feeder. And then it dawned on me. Of course! I should have used the feeders…! What an idiot. I’m such a horse person. No wonder the other cows looked at me in bewilderment when I tossed the alfalfa on the muddy ground. Of course.
I threw the first flake and they all dove at it like seagulls. Mine! Mine! The entire feeder moved about 6 feet backwards. I stood there frozen as they proceeded to bang the crap out of the steel feeder. They shoved each other out of the way better than any Titan I’d ever seen. I was a bit frightened and then I realized that I had to throw all the hay over and FAST! I started chucking alfalfa flakes like they were grenades. Take that! And that! … I tried to spread them out but I got 4 inside the feeder which created a massive head butting, steel crunching, metal twisting frenetic dance of destruction. I could not believe my eyes and ears! There were two cows who were feasting on the flakes that hit the ground and the rest were cage-fighting inside the feeder. I had never seen anything like it! The cows had alfalfa all over their heads and eyes and I expected blood to spill at any minute. But, it didn’t. I started to figure that this was ‘business as usual’ here on the Shorthorn ranch…
ANSEL ADAMS OF GRASS VALLEY
I stepped back to observe like the Ansel Adams of Grass Valley. I could not take my eyes off of this feeding frenzy… I sat in the dirt before these ladies and took it all in.
They were eating like, well… animals, but they were still leery of me. So, they’d take an enormous bite and then stare at me with their huge watery eyes. I was taken with their immense, wet noses and wide, rhythmic chews. And, the tongues! OMG. Their tongues were longer than my arm. I swear. They’d take a bite, lick their lips, chew, blow and stare at me. Awesome.
I was doubly impressed with the one cow who decided to get between me and the feeder which was the opposite side from all the other cows. She was the adventurer and the opportunist… She pushed the feeder diagonally another 7 feet (awesome to watch) and slid her petite (not) frame between the fence — with me behind it — and the feeder. This cow had an alfalfa treasure trove back there! I tried to get close for a photo and she looked at me as if I was acting totally inappropriately. “How dare you! I’m eating here!”
I had a new respect for cows in all of their glory. And, I wondered how 4-H kids could handle them. Wow.
I went back to the other two pastures to see whether they had feeders in them. Yes, both did. I felt like a bonehead. It was clear that much of the alfalfa was stuck in the mud instead of the base of the feeders where the cows could get at all the leaves. Duh. I felt badly for these cows. So, I grabbed another flake for the black cows and threw it in the feeder. These cows were so much smaller in comparison to the Shorthorns that I felt very comfortable staring at them. They didn’t feel the same way, however, so I moved to the other pasture and threw another flake in their feeder. These older gals were quite grateful for the extra flake and nodded their approval as I made a direct hit into their feeder.
“Atta girl, human, we like it right there!”
TIME TO LEAVE
I did my best to cover up my tracks and make it seem as if I hadn’t been there. I wanted Sonja to be happy with my work. I checked up on Pamela who once again nodded at me from below… I would like to meet her someday…
And, then I trotted back to my car followed by a band of turkeys, Bob the Peacock, several squirrels and woodland creatures — all waving goodbye and singing Disney songs.
It is no wonder Sonja keeps to herself and invites no one to her ranch… It is enchanted.
I hope she asks me to feed again…
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