Last night, my son Taggart and I were talking about Chum, the cow dog that our family had when I was a child.
My dad had trained him as a cow dog. Chum used that training, but instinctively was much more than that. We regularly had 39 cows. We had a 40-stanchion barn, but the bull occupied one in the back corner. He did not roam outside with the cows.
It often appeared that Chum could count. If any animals were in sight when it was time to bring them to the barn, Dad would simply command Chum to “go get ‘em.” He would get behind the most distant cow and all of them moved toward the barn. Should one not wish to go, Chum ran up behind her and nipped at her heel. In no time the cow learned it was best to go with the others. If some were in the nearby woods, he would ferret them out. Nearly without exception all 39 cows would be rounded up and brought into pasture lot by the barn.
I remember a few times when the cows would come, but Chum didn’t return with them. It was then that Dad would discover a cow was missing. Chum was still searching for her. He would continue searching until Dad called him to come. Then they could search together. Usually that cow had thought the grass was better on the other side of the fence, broken through and strayed. Sometimes a neighbor would telephone that they had spotted our stray.
One summer when I was about ten or eleven, Dad asked if my cousin and I would go over to the woods with Chum to get the cows. He wanted to get an extra load of hay into the barn because rain was predicted. Norma and I agreed. We crossed the flat land. Chum tore ahead of us and was already up the hill beyond and heading into the woods.
Soon the cows came straggling out of the lane that led through the woods. Then we heard Chum bark. We followed the sound because we knew he’d only bark for a reason. We found him trying to persuade a cow with a new baby calf to go to the barn. That was futile.
I knew from Dad that the only way a cow with a calf would go was if the calf was forced to move. Norma and I began the long process of pushing and shoving the calf out of the woods with Chum’s help. As a self-designated protector, he wouldn’t leave me. It was three steps forward and two back. We’d push the baby a distance, mama would call, and the baby would turn back. It took us a long time before we were able to get them out in the open away from the woods.
About that time Dad was back with the hay and realized that we should be back too. He looked out the barn and saw the cows. A minute later he spied us on the edge of the woods. Soon the doodlebug with a wagon attached headed toward us. With the calf on the wagon with us, mama cow followed us to the barn.
Norm and I were proud of ourselves. Dad too. That calf, a female jersey we named Lady, grew up to become one of the best milkers in the barn.
A note: a dairy cow who is not relieved of its milk may get very sick. A calf cannot consume enough of the milk to prevent disease.