On Charging Calves and Industrious Dung Beetles

The Houdini calf's name is Hildegard
The Houdini calf’s name is Hildegard

Blog writing time has been cut down the past several weeks due to:

  1. The three cows I just bought and transported home from west Texas
  2. The long-hiatused editing of my book having been resumed
  3. Preparing for and teaching a class on Bible verses at my old parish

We own ten acres of land in the country. The land has been mismanaged and overgrazed for the past, oh, thirty years. It is desertifying. And we want to reverse that.

To do so, we had to get our neighbor’s cows off the property so that we could have total control over how it was grazed and managed. But to keep our ag exemption on the land, we have to have cows on it, which meant getting out own cows. Red Devon are a great breed for grass-fed beef but a bit pricey, especially for a newcomer to cattle. So we found a rare breed called Pineywoods, the ancestor-cousin to the Texas Longhorn. They were brought over by the Spanish explorers and released to “go native” along the Gulf coast from Florida to Texas.

I had lots to learn, including rewiring my truck’s trailer receptacle, borrowing an animal trailer, setting up electric fencing, etc. All went off without a hitch, until we got the cows home. One of the calves–seven months old and about 240 lbs–decided she wasn’t intimidated by the electric fencing and proceeded to escape from it several times.

I herded it back in, as best I could, but one time when I approached it to “apply pressure” that would make it move toward the paddock, it started running in the right direction at first, then suddenly turned and began charging at me. Fortunately, I had just bought some cow books and had read what to do: I shouted loudly and brandished the stick I was holding. The cow veered off and back toward the pen.

The mama cow is about 800 lb and has some pretty sharp horns. It is sobering to have on your property an animal that could crush you and your children. I’ve been wary, and been keeping the children safely behind permanent fencing when around the cows.

The neat thing is, the dung beetles have swarmed our land, and whenever the cow drops dung, the beetles slice it into little balls and roll them around the land, burying them in the ground and providing instant fertilizer. Our country neighbor calls them “terd tumblers.” Well, yes.

We plan to improve the soil and vegetation by seeding clovers, ryegrass, and some other neat plants that can break up compacted soil. Then we will rotationally graze the cattle on it, making sure we don’t overgraze any particular spot. This will be the beginning of our permaculture plan for the pasture.

Bible Verses Class

Who says Catholics don’t know the Bible? Hmm, lots of people, and often they are right. So I’m trying to remedy that, at least in a small way. I’m writing up a class with the eloquent title: “Bible Verses Every Catholic Should Know.” The goal of the class is to teach fellow Catholics at my parish a sort-of minimal set of verses they need to know to get by. It’s like knowing how to say, “Donde esta el bano?” in Mexico.

The class only exists in my imagination, so every week I am taking about three hours to prepare the next class. That’s wouldn’t be so tough, but…

The Book Begins Again!

My editor at Catholic Answers, the venerable Todd Aglialoro, is finishing the edits to my book, which is to say he sends me really good and constructively critical comments and asks me to kindly rewrite whole sections. (E.g. “This part was weak and blah so I deleted it; please rethink it along these lines…) His suggestions are all really good, but it takes time to incorporate them and do more research to make the book better.

Of course, all this writing and classes and cows is side-stuff for me. I’m a full-time software developer and full-time husband and father, to which I devote the vast majority of my time. I have lots to blog about regarding apologetics, especially a fascinating book I’m reading on the Septuagint, but it will have to wait until these more pressing matters are dealt with. Your patience is appreciated!

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4 thoughts on “On Charging Calves and Industrious Dung Beetles”

  1. Devin,

    When I saw your class scheduled for this semester, I was eager to attend it. But I discerned that right now the right thing is to serve my fellow parishioners in the “Jesus is Lord” class. Hopefully, this will the beginning of a long tenure teaching classes at St. William.

    BTW, Card. Ratzinger wrote some interesting things about the Septuagint and why the Church was wise to adopt it so early: http://bit.ly/19EihGC

    Pax Christi

  2. There’s the old saying that the fastest way to work cattle is to go slow. I always tell people helping me to keep their hands in their pockets (no hand waving, etc.), and try to talk in a whisper if you have to talk. Use your body position to move your cattle instead of a stick or noise.

    Try going to http://handnhandlivestocksolutions.com/blog/ for some info about Bud Williams ideas about low-pressure stockmanship.

    Try to get out among your cattle, practice your stockmanship skills, and get comfortable around them. Cattle can sense when you are uncomfortable around them and it makes them uncomfortable when you are uncomfortable (but don’t turn them into pets or let your kids “pet” them through the fence or anything).

    And, try pouring a bucket of water around the ground rods for your electric fence once in a while, because when the ground dries out, your grounding isn’t as effective. Without a good ground, that calf isn’t getting shocked when she runs through the fence.

  3. Wow, Devin, that’s a lot. Just wondering. If y’all are eligible for a wild life exemption it’s a lot easier to deal with deer.

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