This past Saturday, the sky looked ominous by 8 a.m. as we hurriedly fed the calves outside. The clouds opened up and gave us all they had. You had to shout to be heard in the barn, even a few feet away from each other. The deafening sound of a downpour on the tin roof of a huge freestall barn is both calming and terrifying all at once. By Saturday night, the ground was saturated (some places in the area tallied upward of 6 inches), puddles filled any available spot of ground, rivers were running anywhere with a slope, and the rains were not expected to stop.
    What inevitably happens when the ground is squishy and easily impressionable? You are right. Animals with large hooves get out and make the lawn into Swiss cheese. Worse than that, it wasn’t even our lawn. It was our neighbor’s. Eight of our pregnant heifers from the pasture down the road decorated their lawn in the early morning hours on Sunday. As soon as he got the message from the neighbor, Peter and his posse chased them back into their proper summer home. The reason for escape was evident in an instant. The gates were laid flat at the pasture entrance. Fence posts have a hard time remaining strong when their base is saturated. Upon chasing the renegades back in, they made another discovery: a fresh heifer. No calf in sight but a nice-looking heifer with a full udder, lacking the heavy belly of pregnancy. They decided they should bring Bernadine home with one of her friends. This is where the real adventure begins.
    Stacy, her boys and husband, Adam, Peter and Dad managed to get Bernadine and her pal to the road only to have the heifers double back and cut between them to return to the pasture fence. Peter then called for reinforcements. Dane, Cora and I headed over, meeting up with Lynzie and the dogs, Oaklee and Julep. Leaving a frustrated Cora in the van to entertain Peanut, we headed to the scene of the action. Adam had left Oliver and Finley to guard the neighbor’s lawn and direct Bernadine and her mate across the road when they headed that way. The theory was that two are easier to move than one. This is a general rule for moving cattle long distances and usually works well. Not this Sunday. Bernadine had utter disregard for a sidekick. We tried multiple times, making it almost halfway across the field before they turned sharp and plowed between our human gate system. Not even a fast-moving pair of dogs could deter them. The greasy hay field was not the best footing for running, mostly just a test of our agility.
    On the fourth try, we managed to get Bernadine to the road’s edge. We talked softly, moved slowly, then yelled and pushed at her. She refused to cross the road, turning tail and heading back into the field. Lynzie put the dogs away, and we made the muddy trek across the field again. We put the extra heifer back in the pasture as Dane followed Bernadine through the corn field. He finally turned her around when he was beyond yelling distance. Peter was keeping track of them from inside the pasture. He called Lynzie to tell us to be ready, so we cut up through the field, thinking we could find her faster that way. As we followed her previously plowed path, she crossed a few rows in front of us. Then we were off, Bernadine, Lynzie, and I, trying to make it to the end. Bernadine made it to the last bit where the corn rows change direction, and I thought we were going to do the impossible. We were going to cross the road. Not a chance. She whipped around so fast I almost landed myself in the mud. I was yelling and running. It was a run and stop operation. Run a bit, stop and listen.
    My mom must have drilled the importance of never running in a corn field in my head when I was young. At 41 years, this was my first experience chasing something through a corn field. It was disorienting and beautiful all at once. I kept trying to see the tree that marks the pasture, but there wasn’t a chance through the screen of tassels. The brilliant green leaves make a perfect pattern as you stare down the rows for the frustrating creature you are trying to chase. The fresh raindrops that once clung to the leaves now soaked me to the skin, and I kept hoping she would tire out. Eventually on one of my breaks to listen, I heard Dane from below telling me she came out. By the time Lynzie and I crawled out from between the corn stalks, she had jumped the fence to rejoin the herd. We waved our white flag; we had given up too.
    No doubt we will try to get her home this week. Knowing her personality, the fact that the cornfield doesn’t intimidate her and her sheer determination not to leave, we may have to be creative.
    Jacqui and her family milk 800 cows and run 1,200 acres of crops in the northeastern corner of Vernon County, Wisconsin. Her children, Ira (14), Dane (12), Henry (7) and Cora (4), help her on the farm while her husband, Keith, works on a grain farm. If she’s not in the barn, she’s probably in the kitchen, trailing after little ones, or sharing her passion of reading with someone. Her life is best described as organized chaos – and if it wasn’t, she’d be bored.