(Way) TL;DR: Don't do chores at night. Blindness everywhere. I do my best to break everything on the farm.
This is long, but I haven't gotten the chance to write one of these for a while, and I think tonight's experience is worthy. At the very least, I'll have it for future reminiscing.
What a crazy, craptastic, spectacular rollercoaster of a night! I spent the last few days in Dubuque at the Red Devon USA Conference which was beyond my already very high expectations. I had the privilege of hearing multiple experts talk about soil health, grass-fed beef, marketing, and a multitude of other topics. Fantastic is an understatement! Frankly, I was overwhelmed with the quality and quantity of knowledge that was at this event and being shared, but it helped to add to my knowledge and skillset and really reaffirm that what I'm doing at the farm is the way of the future. I just need to keep grinding and surround myself with an entrepreneurial, global minded team.
Anyways, I was riding a mighty wave of renewed optimism for the world into today, and was looking forward to the cattle auction that wraps up the day. I was in the market for a bull which were way at the end of the sale. There were 4 going up for sale and while they were all really quality animals, I had my eyes set on two that I felt matched my farm, my budget, and breeding needs the best. The first comes up and bidding is super slow. So slow that the auctioneer stops the auction and tells us to get our act together. It brought me back to some of my teenage lectures I got from teachers and parents alike. Learning my lesson earlier in life, I took his advice and got to it.
After a bidding war with one other farm, I won and got the bull for $1300 under my estimation and under my self-imposed budget. I actually got a thumbs up from a friend/mentor on the other side of the room, and I may have cracked a smile (you got to keep your emotions in check at the auction, ya know?). Ready to call it a day and get home, I texted my dad to bring the trailer, I got a bull I wanted (we didn't bring a trailer, you don't want to tip the auctioneer that you're hoping to buy, ya know?) But then the other bull that I was interested went on the block, last one for the day, and things really got really interesting. No one was in the market for bulls so no one bid on him, there was only the opening bid, and I was floored. Bargain. The auctioneer must have felt the same and right before he was about to close the sale, I jumped in and got him. I went over my total budget by about $500 but I got not one, but two bulls that I really like, and need.
Fast forward to getting home, it's already after dark, and I'm dreading chores because I have a feeling that the pigs are gonna be out. Now why would I have that instinct? Well, they got out last night when dad had to cover for me so I could be at this awesome conference. Just his luck, huh? By the way, he also gets extremely valuable "I did this _______ for you, because you were gone" coupons to cash in during a future, totally irrelevant argument. I'm hoping he cashes them by Tuesday because they accrue interest...
Well what do you know, I get out there and it's pretty dark, but the sky and stars are pretty sweet. "Who needs Montana for Big Sky?" I ask myself. My tranquility is quickly snapped. Yep, the pigs are out. All except good ole reliable Eeyore, my trusty and mellow as can be boar. I turn the gator (UTV) off to assess the situation, and I hear squeals off in the distance. $%&$! Turn the gator back on and let's go find them. I drive off south in the general area of the squeals, which sounded like they were interspersed with cattle herd. Fun. Turn off the gator again because I can't see anything and I'm gonna need to rely on squeals. Literal lol, the pigs are back where I originally saw that they were out. Smart pigs? So I drive up there again.
Wait, where did they go? Turn the gator off, and by the sounds of it they circled all the way back to my second stopping point. Again, literal lol, as my patience is still relatively high at this point and I have a residual smile from the cattle sale. Turns out the pigs and I were essentially playing a game of Marco Polo, only with the rumble of the gator and pig squeals subbing in for those famous words. Restrategizing, I figure the pigs will continue to be pigs and be insatiable, and ultimately hone in on the gator (the food bringy thing). I position the gator so they'll come up and I can entice them into their pen with their feed, easily. Lucky for me, I can see about 150 yards away, a bunch of doofuses bouncing their way towards me.
At this point it's important to note that pigs have terrible vision, even in daylight. At night, they are basically 150-500 lb above ground moles with no care for personal bubbles. I have 18 excited pigs that are used to jostling for position during musical feed tubs, and I have a surgically repaired knee, so I need to be careful. Much like Batman, the dark is not my friend. The pigs are Bane. 18 banes ready to break my body. I gotta run, my only advantage over the pigs is that I know what direction I'll go next, they can only react. Like running away from an alligator, I think? Zig zags, or something something...
Off we go. Great plan in theory, poor execution in reality, I can't see the feed tubs because it's so dark, and the pigs are on my heels, screaming their "feed me" shriek, and a flash of "so this is how it ends, at 24" goes through my mind. Thinking fast and through self-preservation (I don't honestly think I was in danger, my pigs are the least violent pigs I know, they're just clumsy and hungry) I just dump the feed on the ground. Great idea in theory, poor execution in reality again. The pigs are used to eating out of the tubs, and that combined with their poor eyesight, they pass right over the golden corn oatmeal. They have no clue, and I'm running out of options. Actually one Einstein figured it out, but other grew more impatient. I gotta get the other feed bucket and find a tub, so I hop the fence to get the other bucket out of the gator. Cue poor pig eyesight. Right through the fence. Again. I was lucky and got the lid off quick and ran back in and found a tub, and then a second pretty quickly. This ended up being enough to keep them content for the rest of the night. But oh, did the night just begin, and with only one curse word on the tally sheet.
"Good, now that's done let's collect eggs and feed the chickens and put them in for the night." That actually went well, except the 3 ducks I have were especially elusive tonight. That's just how it's going tonight, and I accept it as the cost of doing business. One more stage complete with no curse words. "I'll count my blessings if Murphy's Law only gets this bad." Boy, was I wrong...
What's next? Oh, just the 90+ cattle being big babies because I'm about 4 hours late to their daily scheduled move to fresh pasture. They have a much more tolerable "feed me" shriek than the pigs, I can't even call it that. It's a moo. They can't possibly have as bad of eyesight as the pigs, right? So I get setting up the fence. No problems, I'm a boss at setting up fence. I have to go across the pig and sheep paddock to get to the next cattle paddock. It's ready quickly, with the assist from the sheep's fence, which is a net, not a single wire. It was already set up, and though the cattle have never seen it before, it's much more a physical barrier and much more visual. It should work. Should.
It's dark, and I move the gate so the cattle can move forward. They're used to this, but things are different tonight. Of course it is. "It's dark", I'm sure they all say as they look at me like a bunch of Blinkin Guessings (Robin Hood Men In Tights referrence, yo, watch it) cluelessly scanning the abyss for a sign from Cow God I assume. (On a side note, am I their Cow God? I wonder). Well, none of them are getting it, so I decide to give them time and go get the water tank and hose. Patience is key, usually, So, I wrap the 100' heavy duty hose around a pin that I put in my hitch, and just drag it to the next spot, it's just easier. Done it hundreds of times. As I'm loading the tank in the back of the gator I can hear that the cows have moved through the gate are figuring it out. Yay. I head on my way, and weave through them to go get the water ready for them.
I get to their paddock and find the water spout. Right as I'm about to plug the hose into the water source, I hear the cows bawling from a direction they should not be. I look up and sure enough, the cows are walking a completely different direction. Apparently, poor eyesight is cross-species contagious. At least tonight, it is. A few of the cows (probably just one @$$hole) just decided to plow through the white, highly visible net fencing, and oh the joys of herd mentality. Everyone follows!
I finish my action in motion and plug the hose in (water instantly starts to fill the tank) and I hop in the gator to get in front of them and turn them around. I whip around and head in their direction. There's about 30 cows going the wrong direction, and feeling the wind in their hair and knowing the pure bliss of "freedom" they take off to try to escape the gator. They aren't fast enough, fortunately, but just barely. I get them turned around, and heading the right way. But remember, it's dark, so there's a second platoon of cows following the gator at this point, and also experiencing that liberation and they are running the opposite direction onto incoming traffic. There's only a few of them, but they are clueless as old senile drivers driving on the wrong side of the interstate, except they are going 75 mph instead of 40. They seige through and I have to whip around to gather them too. Not too bad, but now the original cows I turned around have put the E brakes on and whipped a Uie (Uy? Uee? Ewwwee without the Eww?). Honestly, I don't recall how I figured this out, but I got it to work and got everyone going the right direction, kinda. I'm attributing the change in progress in solving this predicament to the amount of cuss words that flowed out of me at this point.
Hearing the ruckus, other cattle, mostly calves, got riled up and scattered. With no regard for the netting now laying on the ground they, they run through and inevitably get snagged, dragging the netting across the field. Isn't farming fun? Aren't animals so smart?
The worst thing then happened. The contagious blindness struck the lone member of the Homo genus in the equation at the most inopportune time. I didn't see the edge of the netting and ran it over. Instant tangled around the wheel. It's tough stuff and tangled beyond salvaging. At this point, my vocabulary has devolved into only curse words, but somehow I think an omnipresent observer would be able to understand me based on my clear inflections in my cussing and my exaggerated gestures of exasperation. The cattle are still not figured out completely and now the original barrier is no longer standing, I conclude I need to cut the netting free. What a great night to put on new pants and not switch my pocket knife, RIGHT?!?! I'm 1/2 mile away from the nearest sharp object that can cut heavy duty plastic and cattle are threatening to do whatever worst can happen next, next. I conclude that I need to just try to drive and snap the plastic? Well, it worked, RIP Orange Netting #3.
At this point, the cows have backtracked all the way back to their original paddock. Do I just give up and let them stay there for the night? Nope, farmer stubbornness kicks in and that is not an option. I'm pot committed.
There is nothing easier than turning a spread out herd of cows around 180 degrees. Nothing. Well actually, maybe inventing a perpetual motion machine? Surprising, this wasn't too hard to do, so my sarcasm is just me being pissy here. I get them moving in the right direction, and by God they avoid the netting this time. We approach the last gate before their new paddock and I notice something peculiar. There's the water tank, right next to the post. Huh???
Sherlock Famer investigates. Water tank>hose>ut oh. Guess who forgot to remove the hose/hitch pin and they whipped around earlier... The plug-in snapped a pretty heavy duty piece of plastic and completely came apart and I was dragging a hose and water tank behind until it hit the gate and got caught snagged like a stick in a stream. Where it was supposed to be connected there was now a water fountain. "Stay Hot, Jacob." Again, about 1/2 mile from my tools and remedy. The only thing flowing more than the uninhibited water is the self-deprecating stream of swear words coming from the person I didn't know was inside of me.
This story has gone on long enough at this point (kudos if you made it this far), so I'll wrap it up quickly. I did escape my self-determined doom eventually, after making multiple trips back to the tool shed and the pasture because I mistook what piece actually broke in the dark.
So yeah, probably one of my worst occurrences of bad luck and decision making ever. Farming does that. Each day or night, minute, or hour, has the potential to be utterly impactful, both positively and negatively. And while it was a pretty cruddy night, I have healthy and happy bulls new to my farm with genetics that'll persist on this farm for hopefully hundreds and thousands of years. And to top the rollercoaster off, I got inside and saw a friend request from the cute girl from the conference (cattle conference y'all, that's kinda a big deal. Cattle conference.) The feeling (if I'm not being too presumptuous) was mutual, so that gave me a nice bump in excitement and energy, enough to carry my through writing this overly adjective-laden memoir.
It's 2am, I'm not checking for typos. This was written in one pass, per-tradition. Please deal with it :)