Tuesday, November 6, 2018

How environmental fervor led to a bum idea

Of all the hare-brained ecological ideas I've had since we bought our ranch—all in the spirit of "Let's Give Mother Nature a Hand"—the one I conjured up last week has to be one of the dumbest.

Think Eddie Albert and Eva Gabor in "Green Acres."

For several weeks Félix had been grousing, politely but insistently, about the endless chore of having to clear an oasis around the house and along the driveway using a weed-wacker. We can't use conventional lawnmowers because there are too many rocks.

About the same time, I'd noticed how Vicente, our neighbor across the road, apparently had to take his animals farther away to graze, as the pasture on his ranch grew scarce.

A bulb lit up in my head. It should have blinked yellow—for "proceed with extreme caution"—or red—for "stupid idea up ahead."

figured that inviting Vicente's cows and horses to graze on our ranch would be an environmental trifecta. The cows would have some virgin grass to eat, while essentially mowing the weeds that  by now are hip-high. In addition, their manure would supplement our meager soil. I mentioned my plan to Vicente and he agreed to lend me his cows.

What could go wrong? Hmm.

The next morning he showed up at our gate with nine enormous cows that he guided to the bottom portion of our ranch, away from the house. I expected the cows to graze all day and then return home to Vicente's ranch.

That placid pastoral vision blew up after an hour or so. It turns out cows are not quite as witless as they seem. Quite the contrary. Cows are lazy, too.

Indeed, in short order the bovines concluded that schlepping through the thistles and other thorny vegetation was too much work. Why not come up to the clearing around the house and feast on an all-you-can-eat buffet of freshly cut grass, ground covers, flowers and other delicacies, and even some Swiss chard in one of raised beds?

And so they did. Coming out of the shower later that morning I looked out the bedroom window and spotted the nine cows circling the house. They seemed very happy.

I asked Félix to shoo them away back to the weedy part of the ranch. Then I made another unsettling discovery: Félix has no idea how to handle livestock; he doesn't even know how to ride a horse.

Felix, the plastic bucket toreador, at work.
The only strategy he could come up with was to get a five-gallon plastic bucket and use it to politely push the cows away. Félix is definitely not rodeo-ready.

Then he noticed that Luiso, one of his two dogs, a slothful half-witted creature, had a hidden talent after all—getting the cows to move by some impressive barking and growling.

So Félix spent the next couple of hours siccing Luiso onto the cows while continuing to use the plastic bucket as a sort of cow-taming device. The cows remained unimpressed and continued to circle the house, probably giggling among themselves. Luiso's natural laziness also returned.

At five o'clock, thank God, one of Vicente's sons, a runty teenager who must weigh about ninety pounds, showed up to collect the cows and effortlessly lead them to a watering hole and then home. It pays to know what you're doing.

Ruminants inside the gate: Watcha'you looking at, bubba?
But the next morning, around eight, the cows impatiently paced outside the gate as if waiting for Al & Stew's Bovine Buffet to open. Except now there were eleven of the beasties, the original group plus two very young calves.

I thought the calves were adorable but quickly realized others in the herd are very protective and ornery regarding any fools coming near the young 'uns. If the cows had paid little attention the day before, on the second day they were downright ornery.

By eleven o'clock, a distraught Félix, shaking his head, said he was going to get Vicente to take away his cows.

Arnold Ziffel: Another great idea, not. 
That left us with two horses we had borrowed from Antonio, the watchman at the ranch at the other side of our place. Fortunately for everyone, the two horses are, for the most part, exemplars of good behavior. They occasionally graze near the house but mostly keep to themselves in the far corners of the yard. One of them is downright friendly.

In fact, I think horses pacing in our ranch lend an air upper-class appearance to it. Passersby might think this is an equestrian estate in the making. No one needs to know we have no idea how to ride or care for horses. So far our horse maintenance routine consists of just setting out buckets of water.

As far as the fertilizer portion of my idea, horse apples are relatively easy to collect for fertilizer if we wanted to. Cow pies are a mess. Scrap that idea too. It's easier and neater to buy bagged compost.

During lunch yesterday I jokingly suggested to Stew that we get a pig and call him Arnold Ziffel, in honor of the porker in "Green Acres". We could feed it the kitchen scraps we now put into our compost pile.

Stew was not amused.
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