Farm Stories: The Flag of Rough Branch



Drilling with the Pitchfork (photo by AMS)

JEFFERSON COUNTY, KANSAS.  The call came from the neighbor yesterday at about four in the afternoon.  Your cows are out.  Damn! 

I was just leaving the courthouse, having wrapped up another day dealing with the aftermath of other people’s stupidity.  They say my work is recession proof.

After ditching the monkey suit I was out breathing April’s last gift—her free air!—set on wrangling the offending beasts.  The fields were a swamp from heavy rains each of the past three days.  The grass in terrible shape.  These pastures began as a reclamation project after years of neglect and lost top soil.  (When we bought the place, I found a large cache of automobile fuel tanks and rusting fenders and bumpers from old Fords and Cadillacs in the woods.  The neighbors assure me my property is the heart of what was once the biggest pre-war era chop shop in the county.  This fact has proven invaluable during nighttime ghost story sessions while camping in those woods.)

What really irritates me, though, is that I have only made things worse.  I failed to adequately clear the land of the water-sucking invasive-species plague of cedar trees.  I was over eager and put too many animals on poor ground and after a few years it has been overgrazed nearly to death.  The fence I built is a failure, as the cows have been getting out all spring, seeking better grazing. 

But now here is the runaway.  She sidles up to me like the good old girl she is and bellows.  I confess I love this rundown place in this rundown world.  It has settled into my bones, my heart.  It’s nothing special if viewed from the outside, but I know better.  I love making the short drive from the county courthouse and its daily drama of intermingled lives and cares, loves and hates, illegal feuds and illicit frolics to the homestead and its quiet romance–its promise of dying to life everlasting–the drama of eons. 

I have to smile as I think—still dealing with the aftermath of stupidity.  This time, my own.  This is the lesson of today, and everyday.  I embrace it, for it is forever renewable.  Recession proof.


  1. Our greatest stupidity from my farm years while growing up was the assumption my father–who knew about horses and cattle and feed and wheat and alfalfa from his father, but didn’t exactly have a broad knowledge of animal husbandry–made about the ability of pigs to withstand the winter weather. They’ll just huddle together for warmth, like cows, right? Discovering several frozen hogs stuck in the iced-over mud of their pen one winter morning ended that experiment.

    Keep up the good work, Caleb! Watch your step when you’re moving those cows.

  2. What you need Stegall….instead o them lethargic Herefords is some fine bounding Beefalo who will turn your paltry fence into a trifling afterthought as they prosecute their ongoing face-offs with your neighbor’s cars stuck on the local back roads. Facing off against these beasts makes the constantly bellowing camel seem like sweetly demure characters in a Sesame Street play on our animal friends. I find the best fun is had with those who are bred with Jerseys because it frequently creates a kind of yeller cow that displays no evidence of the wild buffalo and so truly alarms those driving small cars by the place whence they decide it is time to vault and fixate upon bumpers from a distance of approximately 15 yards. The chortling of the VW Beetle used to really twist their shanks. When the Pagan Armies Rise against Perfidious Washington, we shall be wearing Viking Helmets and riding astride Beefalo while singing Irish Drinking songs in a Pictish rage. Erin Go Braless.

    One of these infernal and lean beefsteak fullbacks used to regularly bring me up short about a mile from my driveway off Skunk Hollow Road in Underhill Vermont. One was then confronted with the choice of either sitting there and reading something until the beast tired of the standoff or turning around and driving a loop of about 12 miles around the other way, hoping he would not shamble up the road and stake his claim on the north side of the driveway. Cell phones were 25 years into the deteriorating future and so raising the farmer was out of the question. They are the Boxer dogs of the Bovine World, skilled vaulters and they display an enjoyment of it that is surely sadistic. I cannot tell you if they have the Boxer’s predilection for Toxic Beer Farts but in general, this seems an ample skill on the part of all our chambered stomach friends.

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