It was getting darker by the minute and the Milky Way was almost visible. I just finished leveling out the just-add-water cement I poured over the eroded drainage area under the milk vat in the pump room. I thought it was about time to call it a night.
“Jump on, we have some fencing to do,” Digger says with desperation as he pulls up the two-wheeler, leaving it in neutral.
He runs to his truck and speeds toward the lane. I whip the Chinese knock off around and ride down the bumpy track to the paddock where the cows are supposed to be.
One-hundred-and-forty-two cows had broken down a fence and stampeded into the next paddock full of delicious, untouched grass. They ruined the farmer’s night and gorged on fresh grass. Mission accomplished.
Earlier in the day the bored inmates dug up the hose leading to the water trough in their paddock. A cow can drink up to 60 liters a day so they freak out as soon as their water stops refilling. Digger screwed the hose back together and got the water flowing again.
“That will be disconnected by the morning.”
Just as he walked away to check the trough a cow steps up from the gang, puts her hoof right on the hose and looks me dead in the eye. She takes a step forward and releases the contents of her bowels, a nice dark liquid, all over the hose he just fixed. She makes it clear who is boss.
This all could have been prevented. The hoses are usually underground but Digger had decided to save time by covering this one with sand. The kind of mistake you would expect from a 21-year-old contract milker who has had a total of 43 days of experience running his own farm.
I’m still learning everyday, man.”
A few hours later they had broken it again and their water trough was not refilling. Panic among the ranks. What to we do? I’m thirsty. I don’t like this one bit. My mouth is dry. Should we go somewhere else? That paddock over there looks good. Lets break out of here! What? Riot? Riot!!! RIOT!!!! WOOOOO FUCK YEAH!!! I assume that’s how they talk to each other.
There was a mudslide forming from the hose streaming water into the paddock. The cows take advantage of this by running down the small hill, easily barreling through the wire fence and making thick muck that sucks my gumboots down like quick sand.
We arrive on the scene and point the headlights on the post where they broke through. The top row is still intact but the bottom two wires have been ripped off clean. It’s amazing how much damage a meddling mob of cows can do to a fence.
Digger grabs the chain tensioner and crimps the top wire back together. I walk down the fence line to untangle and prepare the other two wires for repair.
We make quick work of the busted fence, but the cows are on the wrong side. Digger takes the two-wheeler and makes sweeping passes across the back of the mob to try to herd them through the gate. My job is to park the truck in a way to convince them to make a hairpin turn up the hill into their paddock and not straight through the gate down the lane.
I’m leaning against the Jurassic Park-esque 1990 Suzuki Sierra listening to Cat Stevens and enjoying the stars while Digger is honking the squeaky, high-pitched horn and yelling at the beasts.
“Here we go, girls,” he starts out politely.
“Come on, ladies,” Honk Honk.
“I appreciate how much effort you are putting into not going into your paddock.”
“… What are you bitches after? …. Sluts…. Cunts… I’ve seen the devil… HAARRR,” I make out bits and pieces of the frustrated incomprehensible Kiwi babble.
I don’t care how much you weigh, I will fuck you up. You want 70 kilos of me up your arsehole?”
I hear the cows slowly walking toward me in the pitch black. They are like zombies but they don’t care about brains they just want that sweet green grass. I see big black blobs move closer and hear them ripping and tearing bunches from the earth. They are reluctant to leave this bounty behind for their old feces-covered field.
A couple of cows meander through the gate and I feel like a guard from Orange is the New Black.
“Keep moving, ladies. Up the hill.”
“What are you looking at? Are you eye fucking me? Eyeballs on the ground, inmate. That’s right.”
Digger rides up to me. I thought he might be giving up.
“Move the truck back a few meters. They won’t go up if you are right there,” he says with little patience.
I had the jeep positioned to stop them from running down the lane but I was too enthusiastic and parked way too close to their exit.
“They look for any excuse not to go where you want them to go,” he tells me.
A minute later the group mentality kicks in and they rush through the gate. They make a wide sweeping turn up the hill. I stand back to give them plenty of room and make some guttural noises to keep them in line and to let them know they can’t escape the tyranny of the farmer. There is no escape.
A lone Jersey girl remains and Digger tells her what’s on his mind.
“One hundred and forty one cows made it into that paddock what the fuck is wrong with you?”
She makes her way toward the gate but gets trapped in the corner instead. He chases after her into the darkness and I hear a sharp ripple through the wire fence.
“If you break that fence I will fucking kill you,” he yells as she jumps over, giving up on the gate.
When everything is sorted out, we get back to the house and I ask if there is ever a day when everything goes according to plan?
Fuck no,” Digger shoots back.
This is life on the farm. An easy night can become a crisis at any time. It’s common sense and problem solving, improvisation and anticipation. It doesn’t feel like work. Work is getting up in the morning and driving to “work” and doing some sort of activity that may or may not make you feel like a useless blood sack and then knocking off and leaving “work.” Farming is a lifestyle. You live here and you can never really knock off. You are an inmate too, just like the cows.