I confess, I don’t know my neighbors well. I occasionally talk with those living closest to us, almost always when we are outside working. There simply isn’t a lot of time for socializing. Most of our neighbors have lived here much longer than we have. We have never had a conflict with any of them, at least not until one of them stole my bull this afternoon. You might want to skip to the bottom to get the details.
When I was a kid we had a big, gentle bull. He would let me ride on his back as long as I wanted to go where he wanted to go. He only objected when two riders tried get on him. If that ever happened, it was rodeo bull riding down on the farm. One of my cousins loved to sneak up beside us and press down on his back just to see the bull throw me off.
I think Dad had bought Old Red from his brother, but I’m not sure. He was a fine looking bull with a mixed pedigree. Mr. Johnny Johns lived next to our farm. Mr Johnny was actually my dad’s first cousin, once removed (he was considerably older than my Dad, and long before Dad was born Mr. Johnny’s father had been disowned by the rest of my Dad’s family over an inheritance dispute). He owned a couple of hundred acres, part of it in dense woods and swamps. His pasture was right next to our pasture and he owned his own bull, which he considered considerably better bred than Old Red.
There was a problem. Old Red was bigger than Mr. Johnny’s bull, and he was determined when it came to romance. He would jump the fence, stomp it down, or find a week place and push right through it if there was a cow on the other side needing his attention. When that happened, Mr. Johnny would get word to us and we would drop whatever we were doing to go run the bull back home.
One time we must have chased him for three or four hours, and I do mean chase. The cows had gone down into the deep woods. We would get Old Red headed in the right direction and he would find a side path to dart down and circle around behind us. Dad and I were cutting through some thick brambles when Dad said, “Stop, do you smell that?”
“What?” I asked.
“Don’t you smell that smell of rotten cucumbers. Son, we’ve gotten ourselves into a rattlesnake nest. You watch where you’re stepping and let’s ease out of here.”
I watched, and we eased. When we got a few yards into a clearing Dad said, “Let’s go to the house. That bull can follow the cows to Mr. Johnny’s and he can pen him up tonight.” With that he gave out a loud whistle to signal my brother and cousin to follow us out.
Shortly after that Dad took Old Red to the market and bought a registered Black Angus bull to replace him. Mr. Johnny sold his old bull right after Dad bought the Black Angus. Whenever he needed a bull Mr. Johnny would just bring his cows to the pasture next to ours. The funny thing is he would never call us to come get him out of his pasture. Sometimes a relative would call to tell us our bull was at Mr. Johnny’s (remember, we lived an hour away). Other times we would find the bull on the wrong side of the fence ourselves.
Dad would go see the elderly neighbor and apologize for his bull getting into Mr. Johnny’s cows. “I sure hope he don’t mess your herd up. I know you never wanted Black Angus calves,” Dad said with a boyish grin you might even call a smirk.
“Oh, that’s all right Ellis. He ain’t hurt’n noth’n and he ain’t eat’n too much grass. You can just leave him if you’re in a hurry and get him the next time you’re up here. I’ll even pen ‘em up for you if you let me know you’re coming.”
“That’s right neighborly of you Mr. Johnny. You just let me know when you’re done with him and I’ll come get him.”
Good fences make for good neighbors. Registered bulls can make for even better neighbors.
When I got home this evening I looked out the back window and saw my neighbor in the woods on my side of the fence. There’s a gate between our fields. By the time I got outside I saw him leading my bull, Jackson, into his pasture. I had to go out to my barn to unplug the electric fence to get to where they were. I followed them through their pasture, around their house and into another pasture. When I got close enough for them to hear, I called out, “do ya’ll need to borrow my bull?”
“Is that your bull? We had a bull delivered today while we were down in Atlanta. We didn’t see him. When we went looking for him we thought he had jumped the fence to get to your cows.”
It seems they had just borrowed the $1,500 bull and were afraid they had lost him. About that time he wondered up from the other side of their pond. That’s when the excitement began. Two bulls, six or eight cows, and one of them in heat. Where’s the video camera when you need it?
They managed to get their herd penned and Jackson separated out. The only problem was that Jackson was in love and determined. I got him to follow me with his head buried in a bucket of feed but just before we got to the gate he raised his head, sniffed the wind and took off to serenade his new girlfriend. It took six of us close to an hour to coax, chase, and coral him back onto my piece of land.
I loved it. It was just like old times. There is nothing to bond neighbors like chasing a love-struck bull. They were very apologetic. I assured them I might have done the same thing if I thought the $1,500 bull I had borrowed had jumped the fence. They are good neighbors. They’re the same ones who helped me coral my cows and get them home three years ago last month. I am thankful for good fences and better neighbors.
October 6, 2010