Red Saves the Herd

I’ve seen lots of gratitude posts in the wake of Ian. I intend to post many because we are so grateful for the small kindnesses we have received so far. But, I’d like to start from the beginning. This is not your traditional thank you post- it is a human to bovine thank you, but I assure you with complete certainty that my depth and sincerity are as deep as they would be if this little lady were human. This is Red. She is a 4 year old cracker heifer born as a complete surprise July 17, 2018 to a cow who was 20 years old. She’s one of the first of our current adopted herd. From the start, she was our inquisitive and husky little moo-fawn. Always a handful, always a lot of ‘tude for such a “bitty durl.” At about a year old Red became mysteriously ill. 2 vets gave us different treatments but nothing was working. Our precious girl continued to waste. It was nearly time to make the painful call to end her suffering when I called in Dr. Landess. In his gentle quiet manner he examined the skeletal fluff ball and took various samples from her. He suggested a course of treatment and feeding that we began immediately based on his findings. This included Milk Thistle pills, believe it or not, and we truly believe this helped her poor liver recover. In some days, she was standing and greeting us with her signature muppet hairdo and a moo that is slightly too deep for her small self. Every day Eric and I shoved pills and supplements into her mouth. Every day she let us do it. She grew stronger and her personality came back. She allowed wild turkeys to share her food and they learned our schedule. But ONLY turkeys. Never the squirrels, no, never those fluffypuffy rats. She won’t tolerate a squirrel, still to this day. Eventually she was returned to her herd, a healthy young lady, and a hierarchy was reestablished. Edina is bolder, meaner, and much more aggressive so she bested Red as alpha of the cracker herd, second only to head alpha of the mixed herd, Gypsy. But we all know, us humans, and I know the herd too- Red is the smartest.
red saves the herd
This is partly why I have to thank her. It may seem strange to thank a heifer (female bovine who has never calved), but in reality, there are many things we should thank them for. This gratitude has nothing to do with sustenance, not dairy, meat or hide, well, aside from saving all 12 hides…. Having said that, on “off days” we allow the herd to roam all 191 acres as they please. We’ve let them loose during smaller storms as well. They always know where to go and where to return. Who leads them back? Red. No matter where they are she knows where to come back to. Sometimes I call and she answers. She has a distinct voice that I’d know anywhere and I think the feeling is certainly mutual. Does she always come? Nope. I’d be lying if I said she did. If she doesn’t want to come she’ll just look at me, almost mocking. Or ignore me chewing cud. But I could swear she understands urgency. In interest of not wasting your time, let us fast forward to the present, the 2 days before Ian. It rained constantly. We tried our best to prepare everything and everyone. But the herd was missing. We went everywhere we could on foot and on the Gator (we call it a dippy). No cows. Finally we decided to take the Argo to some of the worst parts of the property that are already holding water due to the rainy season. It was there we found them on the northwest part of the property. We tried to lure them with all manner of treats. We tried driving them, in all ways. We got to a creek. They wouldn’t cross. No matter what. No matter where. I grew desperate. I could not shake the feeling that this time, in this storm, she wouldn’t be able to bring them to safety. I didn’t know for sure, but I just kept feeling like if we didn’t get them to the uplands they would not come up on their own and we would lose them. I couldn’t bear it, neither could Eric. I sent him away to look for more crossings although every one we tried they wouldn’t use. Honestly I don’t blame them. There were alligators in there and even when we chased them off they could still smell them. They are not stupid. But they had to cross. Had to. I hollered and shook feed. I talked out loud to Red. I crossed the black water to her. Gave her a snack. I pleaded with her. Then, defeated, in the rain, the mosquitoes, and knee deep in the creek I sang a song. A goofy song I’d sing when I pet her when she was ill. “I love you a bushel and a peck, a bushel and a peck and a hug around the neck, I love you, a barrel and heap a barrel and a heap and a kiss upon the cheek.” She watched. The second time I was singing she stepped forward one step at a time, toward the bank. I shook feed. She stopped and I sang. She proceeded forward looking down at the bank cautiously, up again at me, sniffing warily, I could see the whites of her big sweet eyes, framed in a thick fringe of red eyelashes. 2 long blinks she stared at me. Then one hoof was in the water. My heart sped up, I squatted down extending my hand and encouraging her gently, singing again while realizing I was soaking my entire butt, phone and leather sheathed knives. Oh well. And now? Now we had an audience. 22 large bovine eyeballs watched the entire show. We were the test, would the gator get us? Would we drown? Would we fall into some cow-hell-oblivion? Could the annoying singing human with a hillbilly twang prevent Red from being harmed? Would Red get a sweet snack? They watched. Then suddenly my girl was there. Ears forward, eyes wide, wet nose blowing air that smells of grass clippings, then giving me the drooly sandpaper kisses that she’s known for. She didn’t try to put her head in the feed bucket! I don’t know why… she always does. I turned to finish crossing and she followed me. I slipped and made a clumsy splash and she never flinched, though sometimes she spooks into adorable and over-dramatic bucking fits when lesser things startle her. The rain fell harder. We crossed and went up the bank. I gave her the tin bucket and then she ate. In relief I collapsed on a log. I said a lot of things as I pet her and she ate. Then she lulled and the herd answered her, a loud and drawn moooooooo. A call for crossing right where we did. A call the herd answered. Eric came back and we guided them to the concrete cabin Jasper built in the 1940s. There we gave them a break and took the vehicle back up to the Museum area to continue our work. We knew we would come back and drive them the rest of the way later. We were going to refill our treat bucket to accomplish the mission. But we didn’t need to. I looked down the pine level trail about a half an hour later and there was my best girl. My sweet muppet headed baby. She was leading the herd herself at that point. Right back up to the uplands where we wanted them. She did some talking and led them in. They followed her through the screeching gate. We secured them and gave more snacks. The rain poured harder. We prepared to leave and she neared the gate. I held her face and talked to her. I thanked her. I asked her to keep them safe during the storm. I said goodbye. We hunkered down. A storm came. A massive powerful storm. We watched, we waited. I never stopped thinking of them and so many others… as trees split and winds ripped the world apart, as water rushed by….The next morning after we cut all of the trees out of my driveway we immediately went to Crowley and found the first three ways impassible. We passed Dakin Dairy and saw their loss, we navigated and removed debris and arrived at our gate. Oaks were down all over it. Eric got the saw and started cutting them away. I was helping him drag the debris away but I could stand the wait no longer. I climbed the gate and I ran to the field. I was hollering her name (RED! Red! Where’s mama’s cow?!) because I knew she would answer me first and she did, her and Emma, our Florida cracker horse. I did a quick count and there were 12 cows. All 12 of our cows were alive. And so was Emma. I literally bent in half and just breathed. There they stood in the middle of a dry pasture in the sunshine and the cool breeze. They were ALL telling me stories. All coming to me. All unharmed as massive trees around them were down. Fences crushed. They were there on the only dry safe place on the property. All because of our beautiful and smart Red. After seeing us, they all laid down to rest. It was incredible. I truly believe Red lead them to safety. They wouldn’t have crossed without her. They wouldn’t have come up right where we wanted without her. Red, thank you. You’re the best gal ever. We adore you. If the cattle had stayed where they were we would’ve lost all of them. The flash flooding was terrible and much deeper than the tallest among them Charlotte, who is a Watusi. They would’ve been caught, disoriented, exposed, and cold. I have no doubt that we would’ve lost them all. They are not only livestock, they are pets and an important part of the Crowley animal education team that reaches thousands of children per year. Do not misunderstand, every single one of these animals is special and wonderful and I know their personalities very well. They are distinctly different and all have an important part in the herd. But definitely during hurricane Ian, if not potentially other storms, I believe that Red is the reason the Crowley Cattle part of our Ian story ends well. I will forever be grateful for the wisdom of my little ruminant friend. Red will live out all of her natural days on Crowley, doing as she pleases, which always seems to be absolutely right.
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