Rebel Cattle Herding in Costa Rica

(Note: I really wish I had some pictures to go along with this post.  You’ll have to use your imagination to get an idea as to what was really going on.  Most days I go for a casual walk/run and don’t end up on wild goose chases.)

One of the great things about San Ramon being a fringe town (‘fringe’ being that it is far enough away from the big city to not be plagued by crime and safety issues but close enough to not get bored ex. has a food court, a shopping (s)mall and a movie theater) is that the countryside is not far and a 5 minute walk outside my front door puts me into the rolling foothills amongst sprawling coffee and sugarcane plantations.

It was a lazy Saturday morning and I needed some air so my wife and I decided to journey into the plantations and do a little exploring.  My wife’s uncle had just purchased 2 cows that he had planned to raise as beef cattle.  He had purchased an expensive breed and had proudly brought them to the family farm, nestled in amongst other family farms, forests and some residential homes.  What he hadn’t anticipated was how rebellious they could be.  After locking them into their corral Thursday evening he returned Friday morning to find one missing.

He immediately called my mother in law worried as there was no noticeable damage done to the corral to indicate the cow had forced itself out.  Maybe it had jumped the fence?  Maybe a crime ring looking to satisfy the prime rib black market had come by?  It was all so strange because in either scenario why would there still be one cow left?

With that on our mind our walk through the plantations took on a new objective.  At every clearing we combed the landscape for a lonely cow and every piece of excrement we encountered required in depth examination.  We even had to keep our dog from getting to far ahead of us in order not to disturb any possible footprints.  Despite our efforts we saw no trace of the renegade cow and dejectedly headed to the corral to complete our walk.  As we were approaching there was a neighbor’s sugarcane plantation to our right.  March is prime harvest time for the sugarcane and this field had just been cleared giving us excellent visibility.  I was half-heartedly scanning the field when I saw a head bob right at the edge of the plantation where it meets the forest.  It was almost as if the cow was actually trying to hide itself as the second I paused and focused on her, she froze instantly.

We were still a good 60 yards away and had no way of corralling her so we decided to short way back to the corral and deliver the good news to my wife’s uncle.  When we arrived though we were greeted by a different scenario.  The uncle wasn’t there, the gate to the corral was badly damaged and worst of all there were now no cows in the corral at all.  Turns out we were only saving our uncle from a second major headache as we had found the second cow which everyone to this point had assumed had not escaped.

Just then the uncle came out from the nearby forest cussing up a storm and not even our news seemed to calm him one bit.  He just seemed to snarl and say “Well come on, what are you waiting for, let’s go get the cow!”  If that didn’t tell me I was family now, I don’t know what will.  So off we went the three of us, with two of us having absolutely no experience herding any type of farm animal much less one that was predisposed to run from us.

So the plan seemed pretty simple, we would separate around the cow and then attempt to converge on it and funnel it back towards the corral.  Our first attempt failed as I apparently failed to maintain edge containment.  I thought I was doing a pretty good job but I guess needed to be faster on the edge, and he let me know “CORRA! CORRA!” (Run! Run! explicative, explicative….).  It reminded me of working with my father when I was younger and him getting frustrated with me when I just couldn’t visualize the objective he was after even though it was second nature for him.  I had to bite my tongue to keep from laughing at the predicament we were in as I honestly didn’t know what I could have been doing better.  Eventually the cow tired and we were able to get a lasso on her and lead her back to the corral.  Unfortunately we still had the missing cow and a damaged gate.

This is where a picture is worth a thousand words.  Not knowing what to do about the gate but having rope and some wood planks at our disposal we put together the most makeshift gate together you’ll ever see.  I thought I would be in for a treat observing how a Costa Rican cowboy gets by in the wild but we ended up putting up and taking down the temporary gate three times before we found a design that would keep the cow from getting out.  It wasn’t pretty but did the job.  I guess not everything is second nature when it comes to farming.

A few days later the other missing cow magically showed up back at the corral on her own.  I’m not sure if she planned to do this or maybe she just got bored wandering around the farms.  The next day my wife’s uncle took them back to the auction and sold them.  If I had to guess I’d say he’s learned his lesson about this breed and that there might be a very good reason as to why they are more expensive than your average cow.  Luckily, neither cow got injured or stolen while they were out on the town.

Thanks to living in a fringe town my walks are able to cover not just urban areas but also nearby rural zones which can be quite diverse.  I’ll have to be on lookout the next time I go out as you don’t always find the things you are looking for but rather find/discover things when you’re not looking for them.

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