From the farm: Keeping calves out of the garden

  • This year’s crop of calves escaped from the pasture to investigate the barnyard. This time they only knocked over some potted plants in the garden but are my flowers safe from another breakout? CAROLE SOULE / For the Monitor

For the Monitor
Published: 6/25/2022 8:10:06 PM
Modified: 6/25/2022 8:09:36 PM

Colorful flowers in weedless beds lined her driveway and spread out over the lawn. An azalea here and a lilac there brought joy to my heart. I could have stayed for hours walking among the blooms at Sue Rollins’ house in Alton. That day I discovered that a well-tended flower garden fed my soul and made me feel good.

Then I looked over at our cattle grazing in the pasture we had leased from Sue and her husband, Gene. A split-rail fence plus three electrified wires separated our herd of 20 bovines from the flower garden in the backyard. This proved to be enough. That year no curious calves or adventurous cows escaped to trample or eat the lovely flowers. Sue’s garden was protected.

It’s a different story here on Miles Smith Farm. Our fences are not all they should be. Trees fall on the fence wire, reducing the electric charge to a trickle. Weeds finish the job by smothering the wire I installed in the ’80s and sap away any remaining charge. Last week a stout gate post, made decades ago from a cut-down telephone pole, gave out. It had survived collisions with pickup and tractor, but rot at the base caused it to topple over, taking the gate down.

Farm fencing is not a “set it and leave it” process. Fences need attention every year, and while we kept Sue’s fencing repaired to be conscientious tenants, our home fences are often neglected because of lack of time. We do our best to whack down weeds, repair broken posts, and remove fallen trees, but it’s never enough. Happily, the cows mostly stay put even if a fence is down or a wire has lost its zap, but the calves are different.

The little rascals can duck under the fence and not get zapped. This year, the first calf to discover the route to freedom was Nova, a 2-month-old heifer. She escaped a few times, hung around the fence, and rejoined her mom after a few minutes. Then 2-month-old Sophie followed Nova’s example and escaped, followed by Sadie Mae and Logan. Who can get angry at a bunch of adorable calves wandering around the barnyard? I can! Because this year, inspired by Sue, we’re getting a flower garden.

My previous attempts at gardening produced only weeds. Big healthy ones that could’ve won blue ribbons at the county fair. So this time, I hired landscaper Marcie Keene to create a masterpiece. She dropped off the potted plants, planted two azalea bushes, and told me she would return in a few days to finish.

Then the calves got loose. Fortunately, I saw them from my office window in time to save the new plants. The young milk drinkers hadn’t munched on the greens and had only knocked over a few pots. But what if one of my 1,800-pound steers goes trampling and chomping through the new garden?

The calves and their mothers, for now, are in a field farther from the new garden. Since that first day, no cattle have escaped, but it’s only a matter of time – unless I spend more money on an effective but attractive fence to separate the flowers from the livestock.

Husband Bruce wonders why I didn’t buy the fence first.

I just didn’t, alright?

Carole Soule is co-owner of Miles Smith Farm in Loudon where she raises and sells beef, pork, lamb, eggs and other local products. She can be reached at Carole’s Corner is a farming and agriculture column. It runs every week in the Sunday Your Life section. The author is not a member of the Monitor’s staff.

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