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Dad’s yoke prevented many cow escapesDad’s yoke prevented many cow escapes

Life is Simple: This homemade device kept adventurous bovines from making an early exit.

Jerry Crownover

July 18, 2023

3 Min Read
silhouette of farmer leaning on fence during sunset

Farm fences are vastly better constructed today than they were 70 years ago. Today’s fences are likely to have metal pipes for the corners and braces that have been driven deep into the ground with the hydraulic force of a 100-hp machine. Steel T-posts, spaced every 10 to 12 feet, support the wires that are stretched so tight, they could play a tune if strummed.

When I was a kid, the best corner posts were wooden, placed in a hand-dug hole, and either tamped in with big rocks or — if you had enough money — set in concrete. Where I grew up, the line posts were usually split oak or cedar, sharpened on one end with an axe, and driven into the earth with a 16-pound maul swung by a strong man. The wire was stretched as tight as one man could get it using a block and tackle device. If it played a tune, it would sound pretty flat.

Because almost no one had great fences, seeing cattle on the roadway was about as common as seeing indecisive flattened squirrels. Despite every farmer’s best intentions, there were always animals that could seemingly find a way to reach that proverbial greener grass. Dad didn’t have much patience with the chronic escapees.

Super cows

Sometimes, cattle would discover their inherent super-cow ability to jump fences in a single bound. Dad would direct these jumpers to jump into the bed of a 1952 Chevy truck with 6-foot-tall racks, and then allow them to jump out at the unloading bay of the local auction barn. I remember him saying, “I hate to see the old girl go, but I can’t help her if I can’t keep her home.”

There were cows, however, that chose to take the lower route to greener pastures by contorting their bodies to go under the fence. While on her front knees, one cow in particular would start by putting her head under the bottom wire and methodically push until she managed to get her entire body to the freedom of the other side. All our cows were named, but I can only remember the adjectives that my father used preceding their names.

Instead of selling the crawlers with the jumpers, Dad used a method that was quite common in the Ozark hills of the last century. He would cut a green forked limb from an oak sapling and place it on the roguish cow (his description). The limb would resemble the letter Y, so the solid part of the bottom would hang about 2 feet below the neck of the cow. As she moved along, the bottom part would flex between her front legs to not hinder her walking. Over the top of the cow’s neck, and connecting the two upper parts of the Y, Dad would fashion a leather strap that could be tightened or loosened depending on the size of the cow. Once attached, the limb would protrude to about a foot above the old girl’s head.

This device permitted the cow to graze normally, nurse her calf with no problems and reproduce, but ingeniously, it would prevent her from crawling under any fence, no matter how poorly I had constructed it. With a little luck, the cow would be retrained in two or three weeks, and the yoke could be removed.

Dad’s yoke saved many a cow on the Crownover farm from an early exit from our place to accept the same fate that had befallen their jumping cohorts.

Crownover raises beef cattle in Missouri.

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