April 29 2022 08:00 AM

Animals can get themselves into tricky situations that require fast thinking and careful maneuvering to remedy.

We hope these don’t happen too frequently, but farmers know something can go wrong in an instant in our line of work, especially when you add live animals with a mind of their own to the mix. From machinery mishaps and worker injuries to stuck animals and crazy weather – there are plenty of things that can go wrong on the farm. We often have to think quickly, critically, and creatively in response to these tricky situations.

In light of several recent instances on our farm, tough, animal-specific predicaments are on my mind. Farmers walk through and check on our animals and buildings regularly throughout the day, so we can usually sense something is out of the norm by the first few steps into that building or pen. Whether the noise is off or we just get a bad feeling, these moments cause us to spring to action to find the problem, assess it, and act immediately.

There have been a few times lately when I’ve entered a building around one of our farms to have that immediate, heart-stopping feeling. When this happens, I stop in my tracks to listen and search for the source of that eerie feeling. Usually this happens when something is wrong with an animal – one that is stuck, knocked down, injured, or on the loose.

A few weeks ago, I pulled into our heifer freestall barn with the skid loader, hopped out to start moving the cattle so I could scrape manure, and quickly realized something wasn’t right. My search led me to a heifer stuck in front of her stall (in front of the neck rail). The best way I can think to describe her situation is that she was in quite a pickle (or predicament).

If I’m being totally honest, these moments usually start with a few choice words while I assess the situation and possible solutions (I’m sure others working with cattle can relate). Usually, I’m able to wedge animals out of such dilemmas or carefully pull them out with the skid loader and a chain; however, this was an instance where I called my brother for some backup help and more muscle. After a lot of pushing, pulling, maneuvering, and some straight-up pleading with the heifer to move where we wanted her to go, we managed to free her from the stall and get her to a comfy bedding pack to get her bearings.

I got a call from my mom a few days ago to come help her with a similar quandary in our calf building. She had discovered a calf with its head stuck between two gates. Those who have worked with animals know that they can get themselves into the strangest dilemmas sometimes. We managed to work together to swiftly free the calf that then wandered off as if nothing had happened.

On the equine spectrum, I found one of my horses with his winter coat strap hooked on the water hydrant in his pasture this winter. He had been using the hydrant to scratch his rear when the leg strap got looped over it. Luckily, he was calmly waiting for me to help him out of his plight, but that situation could have been a whole lot trickier.

All our animals, no matter the species, have minds of their own. They are curious creatures who seem to be masters at getting themselves into all sorts of dilemmas. As farmers, it’s our job to know our animals well enough to notice when something is out of sorts and to understand their temperament when it comes time to help them. These situations are just one reason we look all our animals over multiple times a day and check on each and every one of them.

I could list off plenty more odd situations like the ones I already mentioned, because that’s something we just have to deal with as farmers working with a lot of live animals. These quandaries are enough to make your heart drop, spark an adrenaline rush, bring tears to your eyes, induce a thread of curse words, or sometimes a combination of these reactions. All these feelings and reactions emerge because we care so deeply for the well-being of our animals. We will drop everything the moment they need our help.

Molly Schmitt

The author dairy farms with her parents and brother near Hawkeye, Iowa. The family milks approximately 300 head of grade Holstein cows at Windsor Valley Dairy LLC — split half and half between a double-eight parallel milking parlor and four robotic milking units. In the spring of 2020, Molly decided to take a leap and fully embrace her love for the industry by returning full time to her family’s dairy.