My cows are causing me a problem at the moment, and I don’t know what to do. They are constantly escaping from their field and going into the field next door, which is a problem because that’s where I’m trying to grow their winter silage. If they eat all the grass in that field, then they won’t have anything to eat come the winter, when they can’t graze outside because of the mud. We have electric fence between the two fields, but this isn’t deterring them. Can you suggest anything that would help?
Dear Farmer Puzzled,
This is a very difficult question, and I am finding that I am torn between my duties to you, my human audience who need my help, and my fellow grazers, who are forever wanting to thwart the plans of humans and get to the best grass without being hindered. But I’m a sheep of my word – I said I would help humans, and so I shall. I only hope the cows will forgive me.
Anyway. Cows. I just don’t understand them. I mean, have you ever looked into the eyes of a cow? Sometimes they’re in there, and sometimes – they just aren’t. They’re also amazingly herd-orientated. (I know, I know, coming from a flock animal that’s a bit rich, but flocking and herding are two rather different things.) Once they decide to do something, then it is very hard to dissuade them from doing it, and I expect this is what you are finding. I would normally recommend that you cut the silage quickly, but that’s impossible at the moment if your farm’s anything like our home, because any tractor would sink into the mud and never be seen again. So you definitely need a better solution. How strong is the electric fence? Sometimes ours is much more zappy than at other times, and we certainly know when it is weak. We also know that if we duck under it fast enough, we can either go between pulses of electricity, or we can move so fast that we don’t really even feel the shock.
It might be worth explaining to the cows why you want them to stay in their field. This may or may not work, because cows are very in-the-moment creatures, and their motto is ‘don’t put off until tomorrow the grass you can eat today’. (Mind you, most of us grazing animals work that way!) But the prospect of a hungry winter, or (worse still) having to go out into a muddy field in the winter might make them think twice about it. You will need one of those special humans who can communicate with animals, of course; and a lot of the time, animals just don’t believe a word humans say, so this can be tricky.
You could try giving them some different food. They are probably escaping because the grass always looks better on the other side of the fence even when it isn’t, but if you’re growing it for silage, then it probably IS better on the other side of the fence, and there’s not a lot you can do about that. I am always trying to persuade my humans to give me an unlimited supply of that delicious food which comes in bags, and so perhaps if you got a truckful of whatever sort of food cows like best, then that might persuade them. The humans think this is a bad idea because it might make us ill, but I think that’s just a cop-out.
Perhaps they don’t actually like silage very much, and want to stop you being able to make it? Try telling them that you’re going to turn that grass into something else, something they like more, and that might fool them into leaving it alone. I don’t like silage very much at all, so I could understand if this were the problem.
Short of tying them up, though, Farmer Puzzled, I’m not sure I’ve got the answer to your problem. Cows are just like that, and it’s very difficult to persuade them to be any different. A fence is, when all’s said and done, only a gentlemans’ agreement, and all parties know that they are easily breached if the motivation is strong enough. And it looks like, for your cows, that’s what’s happening.