I had intended to take some time, with a hot mug of coffee, over the weekend to write a solid piece on gratitude as sitting with thanks in my heart is a good way to guard against the blahs of this seasonal greying of the days.
But around midnight on Saturday, a bull somehow made it through a three strand electric fence and ventured onto the highway. A young couple stopped at our place to tell us and P. went out to encourage it back into the pasture, while I stayed inside with the sleeping kiddos. In my very limited experience of trying to corral cattle, you really need to take your time to do it. You need to think five steps ahead, you need to not crowd or corner them, and you need to move slowly. The cattle that have broken out during our past two seasons here have made it into our yard from the back pastures because of fences not being closed, or onto the dirt road that sees little traffic (still an issue given that there is one residence on that road) either because they’re small calves or because the perimeter fencing around pastures we don’t own is older. None of these are as serious as this highway breakout. On the highway, you just don’t have that much time. You don’t have an hour to gently get the animals back where you need them to be.
The bull had been grazing in the ditch on the side of the road but upon being coaxed back to its herd, the animal made a detour onto the highway. An older gentleman was driving his car past, didn’t see the bull, and without braking, collided with the animal. I heard the crash from the house, rushed out screaming thinking it was P., and after what felt like hours, he responded and asked me to call 911.
We still don’t know how the man is doing. We’re waiting to hear back from his partner. He was able to walk to our house from his car and to the ambulance from our kitchen, but there was a lot of glass. His sons who came so quickly, and the first responders kept saying « Ce sont des choses qui arrivent » (« These things happen ») about the animal on the road, but in my mind, these aren’t things that happen.. not if you have a radish farm, or a city job, or a lentil business. And I feel so terrible about the Thanksgiving that this family has had. No amount of pie baking or casserole sharing can change that.
The only cattle and dairy farms that I’ve visited where many animals are living on pasture and not cooped up in barns or pens have been in rural Alberta. These farms are off the beaten (and paved) path, with animals far from any dense housing. We are not. We belong to a cluster of houses — a number of small acreages and a few farms on a ‘rang‘ four kilometres from a town populated by some 3,000 people. There aren’t many pastured animals around. And while there’s a lot of talk about revitalizing « les terres en friche, »– abandoned, unused agricultural land, having pastured animals close to town on a winding country road with an 80 kilometre per hour speed limit clearly has risks that the growing of soybean or sod do not. How can you safely pasture cattle under these conditions? We have definitely sat down and come up with night time fence failure protocol and we can ask the municipality about the possibility of putting a street light on our stretch of highway, but is that enough? How can we mitigate these risks?
I can’t stop thinking about this man and his family.
So at the very least, I’m grateful we were home and not away for a cottage Thanksgiving celebration as planned. Grateful that we live in a place with speedy emergency services. Grateful that were able to call for help quickly and that the man could wait for the ambulance in a warm house. I’m grateful I had the wherewithal to ask his son for a phone number to be able to follow up. And I’d be grateful for others sending their thoughts and prayers to these good people also.