Meatloaf

Pictured above is Meatloaf.  Dad and I first spied him among a field of gorgeous cows at the Southpoll field day last summer.  He and his harem were truly world class.  They were pro linebackers to the high school players in our pasture, if you will.  I admired him, but knew he was in a different league than ours.

Then, last fall, a friend bought Meatloaf and posted his pic online.  The banker may stare at his piles of money, the politician at women, but only the farmer ogles cattle.  Ogling, I now know,  always leads to something.  This time it meant that come December 15, I’d rented, and picked up Meatloaf for 10 weeks of romancing the cows on our farm.

As they say, time flies, and today was the day for Meatloaf to head home.  I’d actually postponed his return trip one day because I was shorthanded and found myself so again today because one of my helpers was sick.  No matter, the bull had to be loaded, if only nephew Bedford and I were available.

Instead of try to maneuver 56 bovines 1/2 mile or more to the holding pen, sort the bull out and cajole them all back, we decided to live simply.  We would load the bull in the field.

Remember this is an animal that weighs over 1,000lb, is faster and stronger than us and with whom we are already pushing our luck by containing him with only two tiny wires of fence.  And he has fifteen acres on which to roam, if he doesn’t take a notion to break out of his containment.  By loading him in the field, all we’re asking him to do is saunter into a dark, six foot wide box that’s only sixteen feet long because we say please and shake a bit of alfalfa in his face.  Right.

Did I mention there are only two of us?

Still, we were hopeful and made a plan to park the trailer along the only permanent fence in the field, and stretch a temporary, dummy fence at an angle away from the back, making a kind of funnel.  Just as we positioned the trailer along the fence and ran out a flimsy electric fence funnel, up pulls Wright.  His job often requires a night shift and he was just returning home from work.

“Need help?” He asked.

You wouldn’t have surprised me a bit if you’d said it was Jesus himself asking the question.  Actually, when I looking back now, I’m pretty sure it was.

“Yes, please!” I said.

He hopped over the fence and I grabbed a handful of alfalfa to lure the bull.  All the other cows had already congregated at the truck and trailer, willing and ready to pirrouette into the trailer if we just talked about shaking alfalfa at them, but not Meatloaf.  He was 100 yards away, mooing, watching.

I tucked the alfalfa behind my back to hide it from the mob and nonchalantly scooted toward the bull.  He was leery, but once I flashed the green stuff he took a step toward me, so I let him have a nibble.  He let half the bite drop to the ground, toooooookkkkk hhhhhiiiiiissssss ttttiiiimmmmeeee slowly, deliberately, liesurely tasting it and then gathered the momentum to look up at me again.  I shook the bundle a bit.  He took a small step.

“Great, I thought, we’ll get there, but I may be using a walker by the time we do.”

Meatloaf proved me wrong, though, and slowly took two steps toward me.  So began our dance.  I’d give him a bit, take two steps and shake.  He’d chew.  I’d take a step back toward him, he’d step toward me, and I’d shake.

We kept this up for 50 yards or so until he got tired of the game and started veering left.  Wright came over and tried to help steer him back toward the trailer.  Nope.  We’d both stand in front of him, I’d offer the alfalfa, and he’d just walk calmly through us.  He was never aggressive, never upset, just done.  As he got further away, I suggested Wright hop in the truck, drive ahead of him and we’d try to just load him in the middle of the field.

So he did.  Wright got ahead of the bull, parked the truck and trailer, opened the back gate and threw alfalfa into the trailer, hoping to lure the beast.  And beasts he lured, but not Meatloaf.  Well not really.  Meatloaf got real close to walking into the trailer and we tried our best to hem him in with our bodies, but he just calmly plodded through us again.  He literally tried to walk through my legs at one point.

Then another young bull grabbed Meatloaf’s attention, butting his head repeatedly until the big bull finally joined him in a friendly game of Let’s Smack Foreheads.  We couldn’t separate them.  They went around and around the back of the trailer and finally I’d had enough.  I walked over to the young bull and strategically introduced him to a close-up view of the print on the bottom of my boot.  He got the message.

Thankfully, this didn’t faze Meatloaf.  As a matter of fact, I began to surmise that the emphasis in his name may not be on the Meat, but on the loaf, as he was showing himself quite adept at neither following directions nor getting upset, but rather at simply loafing.

And the three of us – Wright, Bedford, and myself just stood in the field, staring at that bull, whispering him into the trailer, praying.  We’d been at this for 30 minutes now and pretty soon this bull was gonna walk away for good.  I’d seen this before.  Animals feel the pressure.  The big black box on wheels and the three bipeds don’t show up and stand around every day.  It’s an unnatural situation for the cows and eventually they flee, in one way or another.  I could feel our luck running out.

Then Wright walked over and shooed a cow away from the back of the trailer.  Maybe Meatloaf was timid and wouldn’t approach with another cow there.  Then Wright picked up a bit of alfalfa and shook it out of his hand, onto the floor of the trailer.  The bull picked up his head and almost wheeled around.  The movement interested him and he walked to the trailer just as Wright shuttled away to give him room.

The bull ate a minute and then walked off.

“He’s not hungry.” I said.

“We don’t have much to offer then,” Wright quipped.

We all silently prayed.

Bedford was closest to the trailer at this point and the bull was beginning to walk away.  I knew our paltry human fence wouldn’t stop him, so, in desperation, I asked Bedford to step into the trailer, grab some alfalfa, and shake it out of his hand, as Wright had done, while walking to the front of the trailer.

And it worked!  Meatloaf whipped around (slowly, mind you) and trodded right into the trailer.

“Go now, Wright whispered, it’s not gonna get any better than this!”

The front of Meatloaf’s body was completely in the trailer, but his back legs were still on the ground.  I shot to the back of the trailer and swung the gate closed, just as 1,000lb of beef backed against the gate.

“I need help! I can’t hold him” I said.

Wright was too far away still to assist, so Meatloaf apparently took my call as a request and suddenly, but oddly gingerly hopped into the trailer.  I quickly shut the door and locked it.  The only problem was that Bedford was now locked into the trailer with the bull.

“Mmmm, I thought, this probably won’t be a win if we load the bull but kill the nephew.”

“Don’t worry Bedford.  Just be still and calm.  He’s very gentle,” I simultaneously said – and verbally hoped.

Wright sprinted around the side of the trailer to open the escape door and release the teenager frozen in the front corner of the trailer.

The bull trudged toward him.

Time barely dripped.

Just as Wright reached the door and opened it, the bull turned past Bedford’s corner and began heading to the back of the trailer.  I came around the side of the trailer just in time to see him conveniently stick his massived head out of the now-open door and yelled, “No, he’s coming back out!”

Thankfully Wright saw it happening before I did and was already shutting the door.  And thankfully the bull, unfazed by the rejection, continued his journey to the back of the trailer.  Wright re-opened the door and Bedford gladly slithered out.

That’s when we all breathed a long “Thank you God”.  All of us, except for Meatloaf, of course.  He mooed goodbyes all the way out of the field, unimpressed by our work.