We have 230 head of pregnant heifers in a secure heifer lot at Joe and Rita’s place. They bought the 10-acre acreage from an old landlord of mine when they got married 15 years ago. Joe and the concrete crew then built a complete concrete heifer lot including headlocks, a loading ramp and welded pipe fencing. We still rent the surrounding 230 acres from the landlord’s widow. Of that, 180 acres are average cropland and 50 acres are a meandering pasture cutting through the middle of the farm.
    Most summers, Joe and Rita slowly start letting the heifers out into the pasture in late May when the hot barbed wire is 2 feet taller than the grass. This year with constant rainfall all summer, the pasture was flooded and waterlogged, so they could not let the cattle out until early August. Needless to say, the grass was higher than the electric barb wire in places. Granted we have not put thousands of dollars into a better pasture fence because we do not own it, and the widow is elderly, so we do not know who will own the farm in the near future.
    Two mornings after they let the heifers in the pasture, my phone rang at 4:30 a.m. It was the county sheriff dispatch lady saying we had cattle on a four-lane highway, cattle on the mainline railroad and cattle on the manicured lawns of the fancy lake homes on the south side of Worthington.
    We immediately lined up every spare employee, relative and soon to be ex-friends to help us, especially if they had a dirt bike or side by side. We first went to the lake house address the sheriff had given us, and found 10 of the approximately 150 that had gotten out. As we guided them southwest toward home we collected another large group that was hanging close to the railroad tracks. We tried keeping them together along the edge of the highway. The city police and sheriff deputies were there helping us and trying to slow down traffic. I now know what danger highway maintenance workers face with oblivious drivers. It was still fairly dark out, all the squad cars were lit up like purple rain, and cars and trucks would whiz by us at 70 mph.
    We managed to get that large group across the four-lane highway and run them the 1.5 miles south to Joe’s heifer yard. We knew we were still missing 60-70 head, so everyone spread out and started looking. As we found small groups, it became apparent they all broke out of the narrow north end of the pasture (possibly spooked by a coyote), ran north up the gravel road toward the bright lights of the city, then when they crossed the highway some followed the railroad track west and some went east into town.
    We spent the entire day searching for and rounding up cattle until 10 p.m. I filled my side by side with gas three times that day. We would find a few in the deep brush along the railroad and a few 5 miles west, hanging on the edges of a cornfield. We learned quickly that cattle will run down a gravel road quite nicely, but will get stupid crossing railroad tracks or busy highways. I do not even want to remember the close calls we had with traffic that day. If we were moving three head across tracks or intersections, we put a dirt bike on each side of the animals and two side by sides tightly behind them. If they balked, we gently nudged them from behind.
    The next day we knew we were still missing 12 head, and by then the whole county knew about it and who to call, so one of our plans was to wait for phone calls of cattle sighting. Our other plan was to put a drone over one large cornfield where we suspected some were hiding. The drone idea kind of worked, but we were always out of battery, and it was hard to see the video feed on a smartphone. Joe called one of his friends who flies a helicopter. John, the good friend, tells Joe if he goes up looking that Joe is coming along, but first they have to charge the batteries on the helicopter because it had not run in quite a while. Nothing scary about that scenario. They went over the cornfield and found heifers. When they found one, they would hover low over it while us ground guys would run over there. Nothing like chasing a heifer through 7-foot tall bending corn while the helicopter blades are trying to blow your whole body into the ground.
    By Friday, we had found all but one heifer, and that could be an inventory error. One of my concerns, with the low prices of dairy cattle, was that we would end up with more heifers than we started with. That is an old sale barn joke, and if you do not get it you probably are not reading this anyway. Speaking of sale barns, the owners of the beautiful lake home of which our cattle decimated their landscaping and lawn are good friends of ours, and they used to own the local sales barn. Their son, also an auctioneer, called us the next day and said the next time his mom and dad wanted lawn fertilizer they would come and get it, and we did not have to deliver it.
    Vander Kooi operates a 1,800-cow, 4,500 acre farm with his son, Joe, and daughter-in-law, Rita, near Worthington, Minn. Send him feedback at davevkooi@icloud.com. Follow him on Instagram, @davevanderkooi.