Pipi’s Pasture: Animal behavior and weather changes
November 1, 2013
Craig — Years ago, when we lived on the Front Range, one of our neighbors, an older lady, used to watch Benji, our son's dog, when he was outdoors. Sometimes Benji rolled around on the ground, both legs up in the air as he rubbed his back.
"Stop that!" our neighbor yelled at Benji. "When dogs roll around on the ground, it means that the wind will blow."
Sure enough, that's what happened, and another weather change, like rain or snow, usually accompanied the wind.
During those same years, I had weather predictors of my own. In the mornings as I waited for my students to arrive for class, I watched the horses from the second-story windows of the biology room at the high school where I taught. They usually ate their breakfast quietly, but sometimes they ran around the pasture in a wild manner, and I knew that the weather was going to change.
I also was able to predict my students' behavior that day because, like the horses, kids tend to act a little wild before a weather change, too. So do other animals — perhaps even we adults.
So, that brings me to this past Monday. My husband, Lyle, and I shouldn't have been surprised at the wild behavior of the cows and calves here at Pipi's Pasture. This time, the weather already had changed because we woke up to rain and quite a lot of it.
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Before getting into the events of the morning, it's necessary to explain how we feed hay to the animals in the little pasture. At the present time, we're feeding small bales that Lyle hauls out on a trailer pulled by a four-wheeler. My job is to follow along behind, cutting and retrieving the bale twine and spreading out the hay. But perhaps my most important job is letting Lyle through the gate.
Depending on the morning, cows and calves are gathered around the gate, anxious to be fed. So I have to chase them away and watch to make sure none of the animals sneak out while Lyle drives through. Once the trailer makes it through the gate, the cattle follow the hay into the pasture and stay there until I cut the twine — usually, anyway.
So after the first load of hay is in the pasture, we figure that it's safe to leave the gate open so that Lyle doesn't have to get off and on the four-wheeler several times. That's the way it has always worked since we moved here. Not so Monday morning.
Their behavior only can be explained by the weather change. I was cutting twine, so I didn't notice that about 12 cows and calves had returned to the open gate. I'm not sure when Lyle first noticed, but he let me know when he brought the second load of hay into the pasture.
Luckily, we were able to make it back to the front part of the property before the cattle ran down the lane to the county road. Cows and calves were snooping through the carport, eating grass around the parked haying machinery and kicking up their heels in glee that they had escaped. Their behavior was not unlike that of the horses I used to watch years ago.
They found the bright green grass on our unfenced front lawn. It started to snow big flakes that were coming down sideways. Some of the cows inside the pasture noticed what was going on, and they escaped the pasture, too. I watched the lane. Lyle chased cows. They ran around and around, and of course, none of the animals ran back through the opened gate.
Finally, we all quieted down. Lyle drove into the hay yard and picked up some more bales. (Of course, three cows went in with him and had to be put back out.) The grass was covered with snow by this time, so the cows took interest in the hay. They followed the trailer back to the gate. What followed wasn't exactly calm, but eventually we got all of the cows and calves back where they belonged.
Lyle and I absolutely were soaked from the snowfall and exhausted from chasing cattle. We still shake our heads in wonder about the "whys" of that morning, but now the gate stays shut, no matter what the morning is like.