Things aren't always easy.

Last week I received the dreaded phone call from the sheriff's office--no my kids were all at home and within my sight. So I knew they were fine, but in the fall and spring cattle seem to think that there is better grass on the other side of the fence and they are often seen on the roads. So when the voice identified herself as from the sheriff's office, I unconsciously sucked in my breath.

We work hard to maintain fences and make sure the cattle have plenty to eat, but at this time of year the quality of the grass is dropping, so cows have to eat an awful lot of it to satisfy their hunger. It doesn't matter how hard you work, it seems that every rancher deals with errant cows or calves.

So when the sheriff's dispatcher said that we had a calf hit by a truck on the road, my stomach dropped to my toes. She said it was badly hurt and couldn't get up. They needed me to be there to identify it so they could put it down. I was still dressed in my "going to town" clothes, but I immediately hollered for my oldest son to come and we headed to the pickup truck. As we drove the 5 miles to the location they had given me, I rolled the information over and over in my mind. I couldn't think of any way we had cattle out on the road. The closest calves to that location were a half mile away, through an empty pasture. I called a neighbor and told him the description that I had received, and he didn't think it was his either.  So I wasn't sure what I would find when I arrived. I had hope that it wasn't my calf, but there was also dread of seeing an injured animal and having to take care of the situation.

When we arrived, the 600 pound calf was lying in the ditch on the side of the road, the man who had hit her with his pickup was there. Luckily he was fine, but his truck was damaged. The sheriff's deputy (who is a neighbor and friend) stood by his car with his lights flashing and held his gun. I made my way to the calf, wary that she might be afraid and bolt away, injuring anyone near her. But she was pretty oblivious to everything at this time, and was unable to move. I did see that she was breathing, but not moving her eyes or ears to any stimulus. I picked up her head, turning it to see the ear tag that identified her as one of my 7 month old heifer calves. I told the deputy that she was mine and to please put her out of her misery right away.

As I moved away from her, I admit that I got tears in my eyes. I covered my ears to muffle the sound of the gunshot that would end her misery. Every rancher is familiar with humane euthanasia, but it is never easy to perform. I apologized to the deputy and told him I appreciated him taking care of it for me. My heart broke as we moved her body from the road to the pasture so we could bury her. We were planning to wean that pasture of calves in two days. She would have been safe at home in the pen by the weekend, but instead we were planning how to bury her in the pasture.

As my son and I drove home, we talked about why she was a half mile from the rest of the cowherd. A calf that is not weaned does not willingly separate itself from the herd--even if its mama has started weaning it. Cattle are herd animals and do not like to be alone. They will not willingly leave a herd to venture out alone. I do not understand what made her leave her mama.

On Saturday, when we gathered up the rest of the herd, we found the remains of her mama cow. She was dead and had been for a few days, but she looked as though something had killed her. There have been recent sightings of cougars near that pasture, and her body was in the trees--perfect for a cougar looking for prey. We wonder if a cougar killed the cow and chased off the calf, or if the calf ran out of fear after her mama was killed. All we know is that something scared the calf enough to run from the herd, and her mama is dead in the pasture.  We will never know what happened that night, but it really hurts to know that I lost a cow and calf who were entrusted to me for their care. I take my job very seriously and I feel this loss as a failure of my own.

I don't know if I could have saved either of them, but it hurts to lose a cow and calf. We now carry a gun when we go to the pastures. If there are cougars around, it is not smart to be unprepared. I don't think they'd attack a person, but I don't really know for certain. It is illegal to shoot a cougar, unless it is attacking a person or one of your animals. I just want my boys to be prepared.


  1. Sorry to hear, We have had similar situations on our place. No cougars spotted around us that we've heard of. I know our friends north have seen one.

  2. I've read your blog for a while, but have yet to comment until I read this post today. We too have cows and I'm a farm girl. The thing that upsets me the most is how average people don't seem to see how much we really care for our animals. I feel like other people think it's impossible for me to raise animals that will ultimately be a food product and still have feelings and emotions about these animals. This post gives me so much reassurance that someone else knows exactly what this feels like... you've put it into words better than I ever could. I'm sorry you had to go through this but thank you for writing this.

  3. Wow. Such a moving story. The loss of the cow and her calf is so sad. It's easy to forget how dangerous your work can be. Your emotion and resolve shine through in your telling of it.

  4. Thanks for commenting, friends. I am glad to see that I seem to have been able to show the depth of feeling that I have for these animals. Yes, they will eventually be killed for food...but they do not know that and they are not afraid. I hate it when they suffer or are afraid! They are God's creatures and I am entrusted to take care of them. J. Rhoades, I think every rancher feels the frustration and sadness when they lose an animal. Bless you for being a caregiver for animals...and keep up the good work!

    Amy, thanks for reading my sad story. I love what I do, but there are things that are out of my control that break my heart. Cattle suffering is one of those. So I do my best to provide a good life for them and care for them as best as I can.

  5. oh my gosh, Debbie! So sad to read this! We joked so much about the cougars this summer but I never dreamed this would happen to you. I'm sure your boys are more serious than ever about killing a cougar now.
    Coincidentally, we had a newborn calf killed by coyotes this week. We found it totally eaten up. It must have been a twin because the cow has another heifer calf with it -- we don't know if it will be freemartin or what since we can't tell from what's left of the other one. We've never had any cattle killed on our farm before so this is a first.
    See you in a few weeks in Lville :-)

  6. Ugh sorry to hear this Debbie. When I was home for Thanksgiving a neighbor had five cows get out onto the highway, and two were hit. Luckily no people were injured, but police officers did show up at our house herding the three remaining cows and asked us if we could keep them for the night because at that time we didn't know who they belonged it. Hope that cougar says away!

  7. Oh how awful! :( I grew up in a farming area, and this just reminds me of my childhood.

    I haven't heard anything about cougars in this part of KS, but I did almost hit a bobcat a few months ago - about scared me to death, and then had me questioning my sanity because I didn't think that we even had bobcats around here. With the brutal heat and dryness this summer, the wildlife are all out of whack looking for food. :(

    So sorry you had to go through this.


  8. My husband commutes into town (Burns OR) 42 miles, all on a rural state highway. Just this morning, he happened to be following a friend and she hit a calf that jumped into the road...same thing as your situation, no other cows in sight. It wasn't killed, and they were trying to figure out who's calf it belonged to. Once they did, it was quickly put out of it's misery.

    It's a hard thing to deal with for everyone involved.

    I would be most concerned with a cougar in the mix too.


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