How to herd cows: sirens not recommended

“Cows dodge police.”

I smiled at this headline in my hometown newspaper. I pictured Gary Larson-like cows standing on their hind legs peeking out from behind bushes at passing police cars.

I read more. The first paragraph of the article told me that, after a recent police cow chase gone awry, farmers would be hosting “educational seminars” to teach police officers how to herd cows. I chuckled out loud at the image of farmers in John Deere hats laser pointing their way through a PowerPoint presentation of animated cows.

Then came the quote from the mayor. “The good souls that they (OPP officers) were, had no idea how to chase cows,” she said. “They put the siren on.” I doubled over with laughter. My daughter had to pick me up off the floor.

I grew up on a farm and I’ve herded many a cow in my day. Here’s a pointer for you: When herding cows, sirens are not recommended.

How far our society has strayed from its rural roots, and sometimes it’s not so funny.

In late October 2011, media outlets in the Ottawa area reported that Gatineau police had shot a runaway cow. (After they had chased it with their sirens on.) I first heard this news from a radio source and thought, “Why on earth would they have to shoot a cow? Cows are pretty docile. Just wave your arms, and they’ll head where you want them to.”

Then I saw the video footage. I realized instantly that the animal they shot was not a cow (female), but a young bull (male). BIG difference. One or two errant cows, no problem. (Unless you spook them with a siren.) One errant bull—no matter how young—different story. (Especially after being spooked by a siren.)

For days and days media outlets ran factually incorrect stories using the word “cow.”

Apparently there was not one person working at any of the media outlets who could take a quick glance at the footage and say, “Um, that’s a bull, not a cow.”

The police had no idea how to deal with cattle, so they startled the poor thing with their sirens. The journalists didn’t know the difference between a bull and a cow, so they misrepresented the story.

I find the disconnect between urban and rural worrisome.

Not enough of us know how it feels to pluck an egg, still warm, right out from under a chicken, or to pull a carrot from the soil, brush off the visible dirt and eat it down to the green nub while standing right there in the garden rows. Not enough of us have fed a calf a handful of grain and then rubbed their saliva off on our work clothes, or stepped into fresh warm cow patties with our bare feet to let them squish through our toes. (We’re all too germ-phobic to do those things now.)

And not enough of us know how to herd cows.

10 thoughts on “How to herd cows: sirens not recommended

  1. suzemuse

    When I was a kid I lived on Haida Gwaii on the west coast of Canada. We were isolated enough from the rest of the world that the cows roamed freely…sometimes into our back yards, but often onto the road that connected the northern towns to the southern towns on this island of 2,000 people.

    I learned from a very young age that, while a small tap of the car horn would be enough to get the cows to move from the centre of the road, should you come upon a bull, your only real choice was to wait it out. The bull would move along when it was good and ready.

    Growing up in that environment taught me a lot about having respect for all animals…especially the ones that outweigh you (and your car).

    I agree that our urban lifestyle has totally disconnected us from rural life….I miss it a lot.

  2. Sharyn

    I have to report that, as a young child, I spent a summer on a farm. My mother had agreed to cook for the thrashing (threshing?) crew so her children could experience country life.

    One of my greatest pleasures was stepping barefoot on a warm, fresh cow patty. It was deliciously sensual and thoroughly NOT disgusting with its soft mud-like texture and herbal fragrance. The trick was to hit it dead center so it oozed up between your toes otherwise you missed half the enjoyment.

    My brother was grossed out by my behaviour. He preferred to climb the tall, stone gateway at the entrance to the farm. He fell off the first week of our stay, broke his arm and was in a cast until the day before we left the place. While mom was finishing packing, she discovered her son back on top of the stone gateway.

    Of our two pastimes, I suggest mine was more pleasurable and certainly less risky.

  3. Chris

    I can relate to all of the above. I too grew up on a farm, and recall many years of riding farm horses as they hauled all manor of wagons and implements, lugging bags of potatoes and 252lb bags of wheat, handling wheat and barley sheaves (these were pre-combiine days), milking cows by hand, gathering baskets of eggs, and so much more. And, yes, retrieving vagrant cows. I can’t recall ever intentionally stepping in a cow patty, but I’m sure it has a similar feel to walking barefoot through a muddy pond searching for tadpoles. And it is so sad that few folks today, evidently even adults, can relate to any of it. They missed so much.

  4. Jeannette Monahan

    Oh my gosh, you made me laugh! The closest I get to rural is visiting my in-laws in Wisconsin, and we have been caught behind a few cows on the road before. Fun! But I have to admit I would draw the line at squishing cow patties between my toes.

  5. Andrew Moizer

    My cow herding abilities improved dramatically after reading about Temple Grandin’s findings. Calm is always the best. Once they are riled up, all is pretty much lost. As far as I’m concerned temperament is the most important attribute in cattle. My #1 cow is #1 because she’s so easy going.

    I did have one steer (from my least calm cow in fact) last year that I thought I would never get loaded into the trailer. After 6 tries (at least) I was successful and it all went so smoothly once I had updated my corral to block off distractions. Funny thing, our bull is the most mellow of our cows.

    All this from someone who’d never been next to a cow in his life until we bought the farm seven years ago.

    As for the barefoot cow patty thing, I’ll have to think on that.

    Well, time to get out and feed the cows and chickens, and see what our egg bounty is this morning.


    1. Arlene Somerton Smith Post author

      Yes, once they are riled up, it is difficult to get control again, for sure. They are very large animals! You are brave jumping into farming without experience. Is that like the movie “We Bought a Zoo”? I’ll bet there was a steep learning curve.


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