So today I learned that there are such things at ‘Mountain Cows’ – which are wild cows that have either escaped human contact and decided to make a life for themselves somewhere else, or have been so abused by humans that they have sworn off any association whatsoever. My Aunt woke me up this morning at some absurd hour to tell me that there were cows on our neighbors land, and they needed help. As badly as I wanted to push snooze on the whole situation, the 3 weeks I have spent here have taught me how to make good tea, why you leave your boots by the door, and you never know what can happen in a day on the farm. My neighbor picked me up and we put my saddle in the car, along with my half a cup of coffee and an orange I had grabbed from the counter. We drove the quarter mile to her property, where my horse was happily grazing, and I saddled up. The three cows turned out to be five, and I walked the perimeter of the fence, checking for where they could have busted through. I made it halfway around their field, peeling my orange, before I saw trampled grass and stretched wire. I walked the rest of the fence line and stumbled upon what I thought to be completely normal, docile and social cows, standing in the shade beneath a small group of trees. And it was then that I realized my horse had 12+ more years of cow handling experience than I did. Shortly after that, I realized that there were two more cows than my sleepy eyes originally saw. There were two Hereford cows, two Black Angus yearlings, and a Red Angus yearling. The two cows threw their heads up and stared at my orange juiced face, ears alert, waiting for me to make a move. I made the wrong move. The Hereford’s whirled around and crashed through the trees, yearlings in tow, and continued from my neighbors field to ours without even pausing at the fence. Tug and I watched them disappear over the hill, and I wished he could have told me what to do next. Roping hay bales and barrels from his back is much easier than roping crazy wild mountain cows that would probably drag me to Kentucky. I returned to my neighbors house and told her what happened, then Tug and I took the road back to our barn. The cows settled in a thick of trees near the creek, and managed to send our mares into a similar mood – they ran and bucked, plunging down the hill as far from the creek as they could get. I took Tug to the house and let him graze, while my neighbor and I told my Aunt what happened. She called around and learned the cows had been missing for weeks, and the owners would be by shortly to confirm they were the ones they had lost. We waited. I was rinsing the last of the dishes when a red truck pulled up, a couple and their mother got out to walk the field. My neighbor went down while I got Tug and we walked the field, waiting to see a sign of red or black or brown cowhide. They did not take long to make their appearance. Leaving the creek, the cows startled the horses back into a frenzy. We watched them crash through the trees and head for the fence I just repaired. They flowed like water through the reopened gap, and disappeared back up the mountain.
The man who came to identify the cows spit in the grass, squinting at where they disappeared.
“If I had a gun, I’d shoot ’em.” He growled.
We all stared at the stretched wire, watching it silently hum like a plucked string. No one says it, but we know the wild cows are worth every bit of $3,000 in beef, hide, and herd. Cattle prices have done nothing but rise since I’ve moved here, and it’s not anyone’s fault that the investment has gone rogue.
At some point, after a silent command is given, we walk back to the house. I unsaddle Tug and turn him out in the small pen in the front yard where he can wait out the heat of the day. He seems as disappointed as I am that the cows have evaded us twice, but there is nothing we can do at high noon. The cows will have found another shady creek or grove of trees to rest in, and they will hide until the sun begins its trip back to the horizon.