Rock Ledge Ranch: A new cow, but Patches won't have to mooove
And that's 1,500 pounds of discontent.
One cause of stress can be the arrival of a strange cow.
That was the concern at Rock Ledge Ranch last week, in a side-drama as the city-owned historic site off North 30th Street began its summer season. Around noon of the June 4 opening day, Patches, the ranch's only cow for the past decade, encountered Punkin, a younger newcomer, in the pen south of the barn where the feeding trough is.
Ranch staff weren't sure how that would go - although both are at least the same kind of cow (jersey).
Only 8, Punkin came to Rock Ledge after ending her career as one of the dairy cows at the Larga Vista Ranch in Boone, Colorado. (As a side note, Larga Vista provides milk to the Ivywild School commercial center.)
Meanwhile, Patches is used to being a solo celebrity. Her corral has been right by the ranch's Galloway Cabin, and she's made a habit of standing close to the fence, near the path going by it, giving people a chance to pet her. The spring edition of the ranch newsletter, the Annunciator, also describes her eager participation in the 2009 parade commemorating the 100th anniversary of the Garden of the Gods becoming a city park. She's “played” in the annual Rock Ledge Labor Day vintage baseball game (or at least grazed for an inning or two in short right field). And she has a special friendship going with foreman/maintenance technician John Winters. Before bringing her back from the pasture - lead rope attached to her halter - he said he spreads salt on his forearms, which she methodically laps up with her giant tongue as a kind of reward for obedience.
Still, Patches is getting on in her years. Ranch manager Andy Morris said she's 22 years old. (In a separate conversation, Winters put it at 23.) Either age is plenty advanced. An Internet search revealed no news of cows living past their mid-20s. Moreover, in recent years Patches has suffered from seizures and arthritis. One plan considered last winter was to “retire” her to a ranch near Rush, Colorado, and bring in a new cow.
In the end, Morris decided to follow through only on the second part of the plan. “I felt she could potentially have difficulties adjusting to a new environment (no barn to get out of the weather, etc.) and could have issues if she had more of her seizures,” he explained.
The meeting June 4 was orchestrated by Winters. That morning, he took Patches out to the nearby pasture. He had to leave Punkin in the pen, mainly because she was not used to a halter. Winters said he had been able to put one on her - she was even wearing it that day - but she did not yet like the part about a human attaching a rope to it and leading her around.
While Patches pastured, Punkin lay by herself in the pen area. She seemed relaxed enough, though a bit detached, disregarding the sheep roaming around the pen, as a well as a group of visiting children who stood at the fence about 10 feet away, offering “moo” sounds in hopes of making friends.
The first sign that a cow friendship might be possible came when Winters approached the gate to the pen, leading a salt-satisfied Patches by a rope. Punkin saw what was happening and hastened over to meet them. (She already knew where the gate was, Winters pointed out, having attempted an “escape” through it after her arrival the night before.) Clearly, the new cow was not being stand-offish, but having her on the other side of the gate created a new problem: What if Punkin tried to run out while Winters was bringing Patches in? The veteran ranch hand came up with a quick ruse. Tying Patches to the fence by the gate, he went inside, found a supply of corncobs - apparently a cow delicacy - and used them to lure the younger cow to the trough in the middle of the pen. While Punkin fed there, Winters brought the elder cow inside. (A helpful reporter shut the gate behind them.)
Inside, Winters watched carefully as both cows ate at the trough without incident (nonchalantly using their heads to shove the sheep aside when they went after the corn too). Punkin seemed truly interested in making friends with her counterpart. The only apparent hissy fit was when Patches went to a corner of the pen to get some water and Punkin followed her, resulting in Patches immediately stalking off. Yet there was no head-butting or other aggressiveness. After a while they were standing near each other as if it had always been that way. “This is really working out,” Winters crowed after about 10 minutes. “Andy's going to be glad to hear that.”
Contacted a couple of days later, Morris confirmed that the duo's June 4 amiability had been no fluke. “Punkin and Patches are getting along fine,” he said. “Now we have two cows, so we do not have a lapse if good ol' Patches passes on."
But first he needs to halter-break Punkin, Morris noted. Maybe Winters can find him some salt?
Westside Pioneer article