Bovine Curiosities

It is amazing what small matters will entertain a man who is tied to his post and involved in a mind-numbingly boring activity. It fell to my lot to mow a 50 acre field of oats stubble.

For my readers who are not familiar with the process of farming and preparing land for the winter, what needs to be done to an oats field is that after the oats has been harvested in midsummer, the ground cover will return and grow, and with that comes weeds that will grow to a great height. These weeds must be cut off before they go to seed in early fall. So sitting in a tractor with circulated air conditioning, which means that if I was to try and dull my boredom by lighting up my beloved Marlboros and killing myself slowly, then the inside of the tractor would smell of the stale smoke for weeks. This would then lead to my non-tobacco-addicted relatives being very unpleasant to me for the next month or two. So in my almost suicidal boredom and homicidal withdrawals while I went from north to south and south to north mowing off the top of the green weeds, I noticed something very peculiar.

To the east of me across the blacktop road we have a large pasture with a creek running through it where half of our cattle herd is lodged in. These cattle are not exactly free range but have been exposed to predators at some points in their history. Keeping in mind that these cattle are totally domesticated, there should be nothing remarkable about their movement. I say that when you pay attention to what is going on you can see the true picture. The herd was composed of about 15 cows 17 calves and a herd bull; not a very large herd but quite sizable. I watched their movement and was amazed.

The herd formed a line with a matriarch at the front and fourteen cows walking two by two toward the creek to drink. The calves sheltered inside guarded by a full grown cow on either side with the herd bull bring up the rear. The matriarch drank first and moved to one side being watchful and the cows split off to each side and allowed the calves to drink and the bull finally drank. The herd then reversed its direction and crossed the pasture toward the feeder and moved in the same formation with the bull in the rear, head up and watching for predators.

The reason that this is so interesting is because of a theory of species memory that I have expressed in past Blogs. Domestic animals can revert to their wild habits even after they are completely domesticated and the movement of our cattle reminded me very much of an American bison herd or an African buffalo herd. It is remarkable how simple a matter will entertain a man who is tied to his post.

Domestic animals have not lost their natural instincts. When feral, dogs will form packs. As for hogs, it takes roughly a month for them to become completely wild and extremely dangerous. But if you watch a group of domesticated cattle moving in a pasture or a paddock if they have been together a reasonable time you should notice a distinct herd order, and the protective instincts of these normally docile beasts becomes very evident. The only reason that a beast can be caged is that he does not know his strength to shatter the bars with his breath.

Herd bulls remain very docile and easy to handle until they learn that they have the ability to make a man run. They are not controlled by fear or mastered by pain; they are kept such by their own ignorance but because these animals are not simple dumb creatures they become more intelligent with age and experience, and this is when they become dangerous.

It is my experience as a keeper of these creatures that the more feral a cow is during the breeding season; exposed to predators and weather and other natural influences; the better mother she will make when she calves with almost lioness-like devotion to her offspring. Much of the time have I been put up on a gate to avoid one of these massive animals in the calving barn after she has given birth and attempting to defend her calf. I have also witnessed a cow giving birth in an open field on frozen ground and then shortly after walking the calf slowly back to the rest of the remaining mothers who have not yet had calves, which makes for great difficulty in extracting this pair from the heard because of the natural protective devices put into place by their species memory and given wild behavior. It actually can be a rather dangerous affair.

I do not know if my readers will find this as fascinating as I do but it is a testament to the wonder of the natural world even in domesticated animals.

I also have some other bovine related news that may be more interesting. We own another pasture , which is much more wooded and has not only a crew but a pond and is actually at the top of a glacier-cut valley with half of the valley floor following a third of this property. The valley is full of trees, bushes and thorns; swampy parts and springs, and other valleys inside of the valley itself with a very flat portion at the top that makes up most of the pasture but along the valley walls at the foot of the plateau. Approximately a week prior to the day in question we had counted the cattle and filled the feeder with oats. Upon our return to this pasture we made a count of the cattle and found one calf to be missing. I use the word 'calf' very loosely because this one was actually 6 months old and very close to 600lbs, it could be estimated based on my father’s knowledge of his animals. So after searching the pasture from top to bottom, stumbling into a quicksand pit, being ripped apart by thorns and seeing parts of my own property that I did not even know existed, we decided that it was best to start looking for a carcass after the better part of 3 hours. We got into the pickup truck and went on the road to the lower entrance of the pasture and drove from the feeder in the valley floor to an area where the creek cut under the fence. So after going to the bend in the creek and finding nothing I looked down to my feet and found what appeared to be a bone from a large animal’s leg. And I followed the trail of bones that extended in a circle of about 20 meters in diameter until I reached a shade tree at the bend of the creek.

Here I found some ribs and a skull. In no more than 7 days a 600 lb animal had been reduced to nothing but hair in the mud, scattered bones and a pile of sour oats that once had been the contents of its stomach. I called out to my father and showed him my discovery. We deduced that the unlucky animal had over eaten of the grain in the feeder and had gone looking for water. Upon drinking the water it had began to bloat as the dry grain swelled in its stomachs and it had finally died in the place I had found the skull. This area was not remote at all and much danger and trouble could have been saved if we had looked in the most easily accessible spot. Due to the rain that had recently been had in the area I could find no sign of predation in tracts and in examining the bones I was unable to find any strange marks of predation. However, this pertains to cryptozoology in that in no more than 7 days, in a very accessible area, under less than extreme conditions, a carcass between 400 and 600lbs was reduced to nothing but scattered bones and hair in the mud, and a skull that was being eaten away by rodents for the calcium. Under these less than extreme conditions if an animal of this size can all but disappear in a time space of no more than 7 days, how quickly would such carcasses of unknown animals disappear into the earth again?

I hope than I have been able to entertain if not educate my readers on the attempts of a madly bored man attempting to maintain his sanity, finding fascination in simple things, as well as discovering proof that large animals can disappear in a very short time.

I will continue on the track of mystery animals as the CFZ Illinois Operator but I am also very excited to enjoy the natural world in the month of October from the height of a tree stand in the Deer woods of Illinois. Please get in touch with me if there is anything around the CFZ that might require my talents as a woodsman.