Wednesday, August 4, 2010

The steer that almost got away!

Today, we were invited to the home of the parents of the folks who have been helping us out when we have troubles at our house, for lunch.  And to help them load a steer onto their truck to take him to be slaughtered.   Hmmm...that sounds a little strange.  Especially coming from me....who was a vegetarian for 14 years!  I started eating meat again 5 years ago...and seem pretty ok with the idea that I've been asked to help load a steer for slaughter.  Actually, this steer has been lovingly raised in a beautiful French pasture, spending the days enjoying the sunshine and his buddies.  None of this cattle yard crowding, stuffed full of grain and anti-biotics.  This is one fairly happy steer.

We arrived at our friends' parents house (they are Jill and Bernard).  They have a farm with cows, chickens, & pigs.  They also make wine!  Really great wine!!  Jill is an American, who moved here a little over 40 years ago...fell in loved with Bernard and stayed.  They have 6 children, numerous grandchildren, and live a typical country life.

This is Jill

And this is Bernard

And they are some of the nicest, most welcoming folks you'll ever want to meet.

Jill cooked a French Moroccan couscous for us that was very good.  She also made home made raspberry ice cream, made from her own raspberries.  (She makes her own butter and cheese and of course we drank their wine!)

After lunch!  

Jill's granddaughters Mona & Juliet had lunch with us too.  They are the daughters of our new friends Laurent & Johanna...who have helped us so much that we can never thank them enough.  Again, such nice, warm people.  We feel truly blessed to have been introduced to them (he is the best friend of our host).

When lunch was over, we all piled into vehicles and headed out to where the cows live (about 2 minutes from their house).  Here's one of the lovely milk cows.

And here's the guy we need to load into the truck.
See the big guy with his head down?  He's about twice as big as the diary cows.

Here's the group before we start loading.

Now, I didn't get to take a lot of pictures.  Let me tell you the story and you'll see why.  While we were still eating lunch, Jill tells us a little story about the steer they had to load two years ago.  I think they slaughter one steer a year and that's enough meat for them and to give to some of their kids.

Two years ago, they had a wild steer.  In the sense that this steer was always escaping from the pasture and wreaking havoc around town.  So when it was slaughter time, they weren't too unhappy to say good bye to this guy.  However, this steer had other ideas.  She tells us that when he got one look at the truck, he went bonkers and jumped over the fence to get away.  When they finally caught him and got him back, he jumped over several more fences.  He wanted nothing to do with being loaded on the truck.  She said it took a long time, but they finally got him in the truck.  Then she offered a warning that it was important that we didn't scare the steer during the loading process.  So, I admonished the girls that no matter what happened, they should not scream or shriek.  You know how teen age girls can be.  I didn't want one of our kids scaring the damn steer.

We get to the pasture and Jill has coaxed all the cows to the feeding area, where she's tied them up and put a little grain out for them to nibble on.  There is no corral or chute or anything that we would expect to help load the steer on the truck.  I'll try to describe the set up for you.  There are two fenced pastures, separated by a milking/feeding area and a pathway that is about 6- 8 feet across with a fence on one side and the river on the other.  Juliet tells us we don't want to go swimming because the river has leeches.  (That convinces us we want nothing to do with the water!)

Jill hands each of the kids and James and I a long stick and tells us to stand in a line along the path.  The plan is to coax the steer down the path, with us blocking the steer's escape.  Actually, Jill's original plan was that we would all be in the pasture behind the steer to convince him to go forward through the first gate, but Bernard decided to put a long rope around the steer's horns and drag him through the first gate. 

Bernard got the steer through the first gate with a bit of coaxing and then all of a sudden, all hell broke loose.  I think the steer saw the truck down the path and new what was coming.  Or, the steer saw the 8 of us standing with sticks and thought he was in trouble.  You know...I'm not a steer....I don't know what the poor guy thought...but all I know is he got scared!  And when a 1200-1500 animal with large horns is scared, pretty much everyone around him should be scared too.

The steer breaks away from Bernard and starts to charge down the pathway.  At the point he started charging, he was past all the girls.  However, Ethan and I (and Jill) were between him and the end of the pathway.  The steer starts to charge directly towards Ethan and my heart literally stops.  If you've ever thought your child was in imminent risk of dying and there wasn't anything you could do about it....then you know how I felt.  I couldn't even yell at Ethan...there wasn't anything to yell....there was no where for him to go.  Well, that's not true...he was standing on the river's he could have jumped in the river.  But everything happened to fast for him to jump in.  The steer stampedes directly for Ethan, Ethan stands his ground and the steer grazes his shoulder (not with his horns)...and manages to not trample him.

Relief starts to flood in, but not for long because now the damn steer is literally on top of me.  He's gone through the second gate (which I am standing behind), decides to slow down and turn towards me.  I'm sure I'm a goner as I am now backed against a fence with literally no where to go.  My life didn't flash before my eyes, because it all happened so fast (and I'm old and it's a long life, so the flash would have taken a while), but I did have enough time to be scared senseless.  I put my hands out in front of me and push the steer away as he's charging by.  I'm sure he didn't want to be any closer to me than I wanted to be close to him.  He charges past without killing me (or even injuring me) and heads for the end of the path.  This is where Jill has to jump for her life, to get out of his way.  He gets to where the truck is and now he's cornered a bit.  Bernard runs up, jumps in the truck and gets ahold of the rope.  

Everyone takes a deep breathe.  We check to make sure no one is injured.  We're all still breathing and there's no blood anywhere.  We've all survived without any injuries.  Now, we just have to convince the steer to get up in the truck.  He's not that excited about it, but he puts his front feet on the ramp and sticks his head in the truck.  Here's my only picture of the whole event.

Notice, I'm kind of far away.  I think I've had enough of this guy.

James then gets behind the steer and starts pulling his tail towards his head to convince the guy to move up the rest of the way.  Finally, the steer is coaxed in the truck (this part only took about 5 minutes) and the tail of the truck is put up and Bernard gets the steer's horns untied and escapes from the truck.  Jill had a few uneasy moments after Bernard told us to close the back door, while he was still in the truck.  It wasn't a huge truck and that steer didn't seem very trustworthy.  James and Bernard close down the tarp so the steer won't try to jump out the back of the truck (Jill tells us that last year some folks were honking at them as they were driving their cow down the road and when they stopped to check, the cow was half in/ half out of the truck, having attempted to jump over the back gate).  The steer then starts to move around a bit and the whole truck starts to move.  I'm glad I'm not going in the truck with Bernard and the steer to the slaughterhouse.  I don't think that's going to be a fun ride.

Now, we are all laughing and relieved that the steer is loaded and no one is hurt.  I check in with Ethan to see how he feels about the experience.  Juliet semi-jokes that he should have jumped in the water to get out of the way.  Ethan says...I wasn't going in the water with the leeches!  I don't know...if I hadn't had the fence pinning me in, I probably would have jumped in the water to get out of the way.

Another adventure in France.  This one a little more scary than any others that we've had.  I can kind of laugh about it, but my stomach still hasn't completely recovered from the adrenalin and fear.  I keep thinking we were very lucky that none of us got hurt.  I also keep thinking that I'll think twice before I accept an invitation for lunch and to help load a steer!

PS....Michelle, no girls were hurt in the making of this adventure (except for a little stinging nettle...which they will survive!)

PPS...I'm really proud of the girls and Ethan...they didn't scream or shriek while the steer was rampaging.  I, on the other hand, I'm pretty sure I screamed when the steer stormed past me...I could be happened fast.

PPPS...others involved in this adventure may have different stories to tell.  Everyone got to see the events unfold from different perspectives.  James and the kids are all sightseeing this afternoon (I had to come home...I couldn't take anymore excitement).  When they get home, if they have any other tidbits to add to the story, I'll update the post.


Anonymous said...

Pamplona's got nothing on you Steph. I love your writing. Thanks for doing this, it's GREAT!!!!!

Steph said...

Thanks! Glad you're enjoying the blog. Yes, I feel like I've had my own little running of the bulls!

Anonymous said...

OMG!!! ... you need to get to the city and quick. Glad everything turned out Ok. Love, Michelle