By Amanda – ponytailsandcowtrails.com.
Escaped animals is something I’m sure most of us have dealt with more often then not but normally they are pretty easy to resolve. Especially around me it’s normally a deer taking down a fence or a tree falling and shorting out the wire. Not this time, this time the issue was even more challenging and perplexing than my normal escaped cow. That issue was a 1,200 pound bull that pretty much disappeared into thin air over night.
If you recall I introduced the bull around the same time as the longhorn cows. He was loaned to me from a friend with this being his last stop before he went off to the packing plant. His job was to get my cows bred for spring calves then head off. Apparently, he had better ideas. A week or so after I put the Longhorns out to the back pasture I decided to move all cattle up to our big front pasture to graze the big field for the rest of the year. The cows followed nicely and took to the new pasture with noses buried in the new grass. The bull had other ideas and would not leave the pasture he was in, so I left the gate open figuring he would eventually come to be with the cows. Boy, was I wrong.
Next morning I wander out to check the herd and I count all the cows and steers in the big field but there is no bull with them. I walked back to where he last was and nothing. No down fences, no tracks in the soft dirt. Absolutely nothing. I saddled up my mare and took to the woods and cornfields. A big animal like that doesn’t just poof into thin air, right? I rode for about four hours without a sign, through cedar swamps, up ridges and along fields. Called it off and went back home to regroup and contact some land owners to get permission to ride out their land. After all my ducks were in a row I changed horses and headed out again. Taking my stud horse gave me the benefit of a younger horse that would handle rough terrain better than my older mare. I rode for another four hours and just over thirteen miles between both outings without a trace of this bull. So I called it a day and went about informing all local salebarns, local police department and any farmer with cattle in a five mile radius. He had to show up some where, but nothing for over two weeks. We were starting to think someone stole him, which would be an astonishing feat but definitely not an impossible one. Then one Sunday afternoon one of the landowners sent me a message saying they found him, “come and get him”. Ha, if only it was that easy. So we went over there, the landowner showed us where he was enjoying a nice afternoon snooze in a stand of hardwood trees along an apple orchard. Lucky guy has been living high on the hog. We attempt to bring him near the trailer but that was complete fail. Bull takes off down a four wheeler trail and into the woods. We called it quits, lets regroup and figure this out.
Next morning another neighbor stops at the local butcher and says he has had this bull showing up in his yard every night for the last two weeks. So up there I go to meet this wonderful couple who I would become good friends with in the next couple months. He shows me where the bull has been coming and I set out a trail camera and some sweet feed. Guess who shows up at around mid-night to have a snack and take a nap? Now I got him, or so I thought. I set up a catch pen, rigging the gate so it could be pulled shut from a distance. For a couple weeks I just go put grain out to entice the big guy and figure out his pattern. Every day he starts coming in at six at night.
Now the stakeout first night unsuccessful, then the property owner missed him by a few minutes, second attempt I walk out there just as he exits the pen. So the third attempt, like clockwork the bull shows up right around six o’clock heads for the grain and as soon as he is enjoying his snack I quick pull the gate shut. At the same time the crazy switch flipped, that bull heard and saw that gate close and went nuts. Running laps, hitting the gate with force trying to escape while I’m still holding strong to the rope to keep it closed. Now he just decided screw it and runs head on into the panels dragging the pen with him. Now I’m thinking to myself “Yes! Get yourself wedge between some trees and pinched in the panels”. Which may have worked but at that same time his leg caught a lower rung of the panel and proceeded to flip the entire pen on its side, bull included. He quickly notices that he now has an exit, rolls himself over and takes off to the trees. Well, that was a big fail. Regroup again. Thinking to myself that I had blown it this time and by now he was in the next county over, I moved the grain and camera down to the trail through the woods I knew he ran down. With some luck he’d come back and he did the next evening at six o’clock again. Now what do I do? I managed to wrangle up a dart gun, set up a deer blind and one Saturday evening I went hunting. Just like before he shows up right when I expect him too. Mouth full of grain I placed my cross-hairs and fired. Now that dart gun is pretty neat and quite the handy tool plus it has the looks cool factor, not that bull cared much about that though.
The dart made contact, that bulls eyes got extra wide and he spun a solid 180 trying to see what just bit him. He trotted off down the trail a bit staring in the general direction of the tree that just stung him and he then decided to head up to lay for a whole whopping thirty seconds, then he was up and on the run again. I called my husband to come help track. I knew the drugs wouldn’t be instant and would need a little time. By the time my husband arrived it should’ve been enough time for him to be taking a nice nap. We started tracking, which isn’t all that difficult when the track he left behind was about the size of both my hands. We tracked for two miles and only saw the bull for a few seconds, he lead us in a big circle and we lost him back where we started. Let’s regroup…again. This was getting old. I had enough, everyday I was driving to put feed out and check the camera. This bull was mocking me. Posing for the camera, rubbing (his) head on it, turning the camera completely around the tree. All around he was being a jerk he knew he was getting away with it. It had now been 43 days since he decided to relocate. I opted to try the dart gun again and had my husband sit with me that night. The bull came in but he knew something was different and never came in range. Instead he stood and stared in our direction for a solid twenty minutes. Now I am over it, my husband is over it and honestly the quickest way out was a final hunt with a rifle but the bull’s owner wanted to think up another way to try and catch him without killing him.
I took to Facebook Monday morning so early the sun was still sleeping. I put out a post looking for the handiest person I could find to catch this bull. My first suggestion came highly recommended. The Wild Cattle Catcher, Chet Peugh to my rescue. I called him well before six thirty in the morning by nine that morning arrangements were made for them to make the trip up from Illinois. I was thrilled.
Little back story on the Cattle catcher, there’s actually two guys that travel together all over catching loose cattle. They bring with them their horses and a pack of dogs that track down the loose cattle then work to stop the loose animal. They go everywhere and take on all sorts of jobs. It is really awesome to watch these guys work. Tuesday morning rolls in, day 46 of the bulls escape and the last day of his freedom. Seven o’clock in the morning is our set time. They show up a little early and we head up to the location that the bull has been staying. Horses come off the trailer, dogs get their GPS collars put on, the guys strap on their chinks and I give them the general idea of where the bull will be. Off they go. I’m sitting command central with the trailers and a walkie talkie in hand. About twenty minutes in they are on him, my radio lightsup and they tell me open the trailer door and stay out of the way. I do as told and crawl up on top the truck to wait and watch.
I can hear dogs baying and pretty soon Ol’ Curly face comes galloping into sight. Straight past the trailers heading south to the river with a Cowboy hot on his heels but not close enough to make a catch. Off to the river he goes where he wallows himself through swamp muck and finds himself sanctuary in the river. The dogs are barking trying to get him out, the mud is too deep for the horses and by now quite the following of neighbors has come to watch from the road. The bull holed up in that safe spot and wouldn’t move so the guys pulled back and called off the dogs giving the bull a chance to make a break for it. Which he did, this time heading north but he was no match for the tracking dog who quickly picked up hot tracks again and the chase was on, again. The bull was getting tired by now and the stop dogs (were) heavy on him slowing him down even more. He circled back around coming back towards the trailers. As he cut around to make a dash for the road, one cowboy on his heels, the other came flying in head on to him. They disappeared from my sight but loops were thrown and a catch was made. The games were over, finally. My husband’s cousin showed up sometime in the middle of this and he became my gate man as I did my best to get footage as they pulled that bull to the trailer. After some thinking the bull eventually stepped on with a little help from some of the dogs he figured out the trailer was the safe place. Finally he was caught and on a trailer…. But that is not the end, there is more to this saga. So with the bull on the trailer, the cattle catchers loaded up and headed back to their home state to go wrangle a few more wild bovine. I was stuck figuring out what to do with this very upset large bull in my trailer.
I called down to a local livestock facility to see if they could hold him and then give him his last ride to the packing plant. They gave me the go ahead so I happily drove one sour beast to his last “home”.
Oh, we aren’t done yet. By the time I got him there he went from scared angry to just flat out ticked off and he hated me the most. I mean, I guess, I’d hate me too if I was the common factor in all the attempts to capture myself. I back into the loading dock, open the trailer door and he will not come off. The guy at the barn comes with one of those little sticks and gives the bull a few pokes to try to get him off the trailer but he isn’t moving. I know he hates me by now so I jump out in front of him and make a mad dash to the safe spot behind the scale gate. That bull come flying off that trailer like the Devil himself poked him in the rear. He was out to get me but landed himself locked on the scale. Weighed up and ready to tag him the barn hand reaches over to try to place the sticker on the bull. Bull hits the gate sending the barn hand flying off the gate. “I guess, we will tag him later.” Opening the gate the bull flies off the scale down the alley to the pen they have for him. I’m glad he is off my trailer and locked up in a pen with high fences even though he is challenging everyone that comes in sight of him. I’m sure they were happy when he went on the trailer to the packer.
Moral of the story? A head chute is a great investment and the artificial insemination technician is only a phone call away. Dealing with bulls just isn’t worth (sic) and I do not recommend making friends by having cattle wander peoples yards for months. Thankfully the couple that live there are really nice and enjoyed my daily visits. I guess that was the upside of this ordeal.