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When livestock get loose, it's a baaaad situation

August 31, 2009

o If you like reading Tim Rowland, you'll love watching him. See what else Tim has to say

Other people may think that Animals on the Loose are funny, but not me. On the realities of farming, Washington County Extension Agent Jeff Semler says, "If you have livestock, sooner or later you're going to have deadstock."

And to take it one step further, if you have livestock, sooner or later you're going to have escapedstock.

Believe me, I know.

So I felt for Keedysville farmers Imre and Linda Jarmy when two of their sheep bolted from the grounds of Four States Livestock Auction in Hagerstown and immediately booked tickets for Key West.

You really can't blame the sheep. All animals know about Four States Livestock Auction. In fact, they sit around a campfire at night and shine flashlights on their faces and tell stories about Four States. Yes, maybe you're going to go to a happy new farm where you will stand around in green pastures smelling daisies all day, and then again maybe you ain't.

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Four States is a dangerous place for Beth and me to go, and we only do so when we have firmly epoxied our arms to our sides so we can't bid on anything. We are better at the husbandry angle than the business angle, and no farmer ever made money by purchasing every animal for which he feels sorry.

The Jarmys' sheep covered a rather impressive amount of ground after escaping sheriff's deputies' attempts at rounding them up. And no, I'm not going to make a joke about calling in a bail baaandsman, so don't ask.

From experience, I know there are two things that make an officer of the law wish he had chosen a career in reupholstering furniture. One is two women in a fight, and the other is a farm animal on the loose. Frankly, I'm surprised sheriff's deputies didn't try to chase the sheep back across the city line so they would be the Hagerstown Police Department's problem.

You wouldn't think that a big ol' cow or sheep or goat would be that hard to catch, but just try it sometime. Our donkeys, Becky and Nelson, seem to sense those rare occasions -- rare in this case being defined as about three times a day -- that I leave a gate open, and they're gone. It doesn't matter if they're completely on the far side of the farm while I'm cleaning their barn. If the gate is open, they will materialize at the egress and escape.

I don't mind that. What I do mind is that they always make sure I know that they have escaped, just to rub it in my face. I can be in my office writing a column and they will come peek through the window. I can be in the yard reading and they will stand under the bird feeder until I see them.

But, of course, I make one move in their direction and they dash off. Same with the sheep, I'd bet. And forget that old "Leave them alone and they'll come home" malarkey.

If the poet had asked Little Bo Peep herself, she would have said, "Leave them alone and they will trample the neighbor's flower bed and eat $400 worth of prize rose bushes."

The only way we have been able to reclaim runaways is through sugar addiction. We get every animal on the place hooked on sweet feed, so if they do not come back to their paddocks in a timely fashion, they will get the shakes and break out in a sweat.

I wouldn't recommend it, but the same paradigm works for children. Just remember, you didn't hear it here.

Tim Rowland is a Herald-Mail columnist. He can be reached at 301-733-5131, ext. 2324, or by e-mail at timr@herald-mail.com. Tune in to the Rowland Rant video under opinion@herald-mail.com, on antpod.com or on Antietam Cable's WCL-TV Channel 30 evenings at 6:30. New episodes are released every Wednesday.

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