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Trespassing Cows
27 May 2007

Cow I've recently been thinking about the word bulldozer.  I did a little research and it seems that nobody really knows the origin of the word.  In modern speech bulldozer refers to a treaded tractor with a large blade on front that can knock down trees and move dirt around.  Prior to the 1930's, when the bulldozer tractor was introduced, a bulldozer referred to a bully.  When the word bulldozer is used metaphorically in modern speech, it still implies a bully that pushes, flattens and indiscriminately shoves things about with overwhelming force.  Whatever the origins of the word, cattle certainly seem to qualify as four-legged bulldozers.

Burger There is a cattle ranch behind us and the cows (and bulls and calves and pretty much the entire darned herd) have recently been trespassing.  I have nothing against cattle.  In fact I'm quite fond of bacon cheeseburgers.  These cows are quite timid.  Even the bulls run off at the first sign of a human.  As long as you aren't standing between them and their escape route when they're scared, then there's nothing for a human to fear.  Coffee trees on the other hand have quite a bit to fear.

The cattle eat the tips of the coffee branches and all the young sprouts.  This doesn't outright kill the coffee tree but it does mean the tree won't produce any coffee for another year or so, assuming it is no longer nibbled upon and can grow new branches.  In some cases the cattle knock over the trees, killing them completely.  This is what made me start thinking about the term bulldozer.  I estimate that the cattle have already caused a couple thousand dollars worth of damage.

Trail Patty It was several months ago that we first noticed signs of trespassing cattle.  The large cow patties were the first clue (the dogs love to roll in them).  From the patties it was easy to follow the trail of trampled brush back to the trampled fence.  The cattle are actually getting off the ranch onto our neighbor's property then down to our property.  We've repaired our fence line several times but our fence was designed to keep out pigs, not cattle.  A proper cattle fence would cost us $10,000 or more.  Since we don't own any cattle, investing in a cattle fence is something we would prefer to avoid.

At first the cattle were actually somewhat welcome.  There is a portion of our back field that was overgrown with weeds.  It was so thick I couldn't even get the mower or tractor through.  The four-legged bulldozers took care of the entire area in a matter of days.  Hidden under the weeds we discovered a pile of abandoned fencing that we didn't know was there.  Some of that fencing has been used to reinforce the existing fence with mildly successful results.  It's not a full solution though.  Over time the cattle have become more and more intrusive.  We've even had a baby calf born on our property.

Fencing I managed to get a phone number for a ranch hand.  The fence was fixed temporarily but the cattle tore it right back down.  I tried contacting the ranch owner next.  It's a large ranch and I have no idea who the owner is or where he/she/they live.  All land ownership is public record so I looked up the tax map for the ranch but it is officially owned by a trust controlled by a bank.  So, after exhausting every neighborly solution I could think of, I finally broke down and contacted the police.

I think trespassing cattle was an interesting change for the police because they actually seemed to care and took the time to look up the laws for me.  The owner of the trespassing cattle can be fined up to $1000 and one year in prison.  The owner is also liable for any damages caused by the cattle.  The one year in prison might be a bit extreme but paying for the damages seems reasonable.  Still, I'd prefer to handle this neighborly.  Long time island residents sometimes resent the mere presence of newcomers (i.e. haoles).  I'd hate to press charges then come home one day to discover that my house has been burned down.

After educating myself on the laws with the police I went across the street to the humane society.  They were very helpful and offered to investigate further.  One of the animal control officers is a large Hawaiian guy that says he knows the owner.  He assured me that he'd contact the owner and get things taken care of.  While legally I could harvest my very own coffee-fed bacon cheeseburgers, I think finding a peaceful solution is probably a better idea.

When Robert Frost wrote "Good fences make good neighbors" he was complaining about fences.  But I agree with the original proverb, in my case a good fence would help keep everybody happy.  I've been to Robert Frost's farm and sat on the wall he wrote about.  There's no way it would keep out cattle.

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