Two thirty in the morning and I’m stacking the last of the hay in the barn. The bales on the bottom of the pile were damp, so I left them in the sun to dry, but rain is expected and I have to get it in the barn.
Coyotes howl in the distance. A growl escapes Timmy’s throat, though he doesn’t leave his napping spot outside the door of the barn.
“Yip yip yip!”
A coyote answers from our pasture and the dogs are off. They rocket toward the pasture and I hear them crash through the windbreak. Odd that they didn’t go around. They always go around, but not tonight. On the other side, they break their silence and I hear furious growls, snarls and barks. For a moment, they don’t seem to be moving, but then the barking starts and its moving fast. Across the pasture, across the bean field, down toward the creek.
Then silence. And I’m alone in the dark. Waiting. Seconds . . . minutes . . . it starts to seem like hours. But then I hear the pounding of paws and the heavy breathing of Timmy and Luke returning to me, tails up, eyes shining. They’re good dogs and they know it.
I praise them, thinking they just took care of any problem there might have been. But truthfully, I’ve never really worried about coyotes on the other side of the windbreak. They’ve always traveled there. Until we put the cattle out there, they had a well worn path leading out of the neighbor’s field, across the northern edge of our pasture, down the hill and down the ditch to where they cross the road.
I worry about my chickens, my rabbit, even my dogs. The coyotes travel so close so often, I know they have to know about every living thing on this property. But so long as the dogs are on patrol, it is not worth the trouble to cross that line of trees for a bit of fresh chicken.
I’ve never worried about the cattle. I know coyotes will hunt deer, especially in winter or when other game is scarce. My little Dexters are shorter than the average white tail deer, but they are much heavier. And, well, they’re cattle. Coyotes wreak havoc on sheep farmers, but I’ve never heard the cattle farmers around here call them anything other than a nuisance.
And I’m not worried about them now. So I go to bed. And oversleep because stacking hay at 2:30 in the morning is not conducive to early rising.
When I finally go out, Candy runs to greet me, but something isn’t right about Tasha. Her front legs take two steps toward me but, for a moment, nothing happens at the hind end. Then her whole back side sways and I think she is going to fall but she takes an uncertain step with a hindleg and limps toward me, fear in her eyes.
Concerned, I step over the electric fence, ignore Candy’s nudges and walk to Tasha. That’s when I see the blood. Her leg is covered in bite marks. Her tail is bitten badly enough the flesh is torn. There are bites to her rump, her shank and her flank . . . all on the right side.
I run to the house. Grab my daughter, soap, water, rubbing alcohol, bleach . . . anything I can think of to clean and disinfect. And she holds Tasha while I scrub and scrub and then I think about rabies.
At the vet, I get antibiotics, a pain killer and a rabies shot for Candy. And I find out there’s nothing I can do for Tasha but watch and wait and hope that whatever attacked her was hungry rather than rabid.
And as I treat her and sit with her and carry hay mixed with hand-pulled fresh grasses, I worry. I worry about the trauma that I can’t see. I worry about a virus that can take six months to travel from her hindquarters to her brain. I worry about a predator driven by disease or by hunger to come onto my land and attack my calves.
And as I sit in the barn looking at the missing boards, I am not certain that they are much safer in here.