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  • Writer's pictureAlistair

The Great Escape

Updated: Oct 22, 2021

On Saturday I set up a new virtual pasture on Nofence which incorporates a good chunk of the SSSI (the Site of Special Scientific Interest) to the north and east of the bridleway. My idea was simple: keep the cattle off the path and in the marshy grassland where they would do a lot of good. I know some our neighbours who walk the bridleway are nervous of cows, and that there is no fence on most of it. There must once have been hedge but this has grown out to become linear woodland which is easy for any cow to walk through.

Rob Parry, from INCCymru, was popping by to see the Galloway so I waited for him to arrive and help move the cows. The ladies followed obediently, very excited. As soon as they entered the new pasture they charged down the hill into what can only be described as the Welsh savannah! The light brown soft rush carpets the ground, with the odd silver birch or willow coming through, and in the distance there is a line of green woodland. It does not take much imagination to see this as the Serengeti (honest). Great video footage from Rob.

All seemed good. Until 5pm when my neighbour Judi, walking her dogs, told me she’d seen the cows on the bridleway. I’d been strimming around the house, and not looked at my phone. But sure enough, the Nofence app showed that I had a breakout. And it was going to be dark soon. The app showed me that three had gone six or seven fields south-west to the boundary of Cefn Garthenor. The real-world fence is good, so I was not too worried. The location of the other seven was less clear … they showed as yellow marks on the app, meaning that the location had not updated for over an hour … they were simply missing in action. This was down to poor mobile coverage. But it meant that they were likely to be down in the dip and had not gone far, as if they had come up the coverage would have improved and the positions would have updated.

Bucket of sugar beet in hand, I headed towards the renegade three over by Rhydian’s land (Olmarch-Uchaf farm) as at least I knew where they were. As I walked through open gate after open gate, I felt pretty stupid. What had I been I thinking? Trust a virtual fence I had only used for a week?

I found the ladies deep in conversation with the Olmarch herd on the other side of the fence. A bucket of feed was clearly not going to work. They showed no interest in me. Fortunately, as I approached, the Olmarch gang (around 30 of them) ran off. But the Cefn Garthenor three were not for coming back to where they should have been, so I needed to herd from behind.

What can I say? For the next 45 minutes I played both Laurel and Hardy in a comedy of rooky herdsman errors. These three ladies are remarkably fast, agile, smart and (mainly) mischievous. I am the opposite. Eventually, realising moving along hedges is key, closing the right gates ahead of time, I marshalled them somewhere sensible (but not where I had first intended). It was now dusk, but they were at last in a small field by the farmyard.

Now to find the other seven. I could see this ending in torchlight. In some respects it did not matter as the external boundary to the farm is good. But it took me back many years to when our daughter Octavia was three or four and occasionally went missing, on my watch, in a shop. Panic. It was always unlikely anything bad would happen, but it gets the heart racing.

And just as when I’d turn into a new aisle and see Octavia checking out the plumbing section, or whatever, at the DIY store, the relief was huge when I saw seven heads and those teddy bear ears in the rush on the wrong side of the bridleway. Better still, they were glad to see me and came trotting over. Seven 350kg heifers jostling and nudging you up the bridleway never felt so good.

As I led them through the narrow woodland and back into their virtual pasture, I began to realise the problem. Their Nofence collars were beeping away. The GPS signal is weaker in the trees, and boundaries become blurred. Plus, it is more difficult for them to turn when they do get the audible warning. I would need to rethink how I use Nofence in this kind of habitat.

It had, for certain, been a day full of lessons.

* Video courtesy of Rob Parry, @INCCymru


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