Chapter 24

Danger from Animals

We have experienced remarkably little danger from animals, domestic or wild. Let me start with wild animals. When we were young, in the 40's and50's my sisters used to go back on the hill behind our house for long walks, and I did too, for hours at times. There were no wild animals to be afraid of. In fact, there were few wild animals. Deer hadn't come back from the near extinction they experienced in the 1880s, and there were no predators larger or more fierce than the fox. Occasionally a fox would become rabid, due to starvation and would be dangerous, but this happened when the rabbit population crashed and there was not enough for them to eat. Skunks become rabid, but they are slow and you avoid them anyway.

I remember one time when I was about twelve that a rabid fox, judged by its willingness to come out in the open, was in our barn lot. Someone came along in a car and told Dad, who promptly got out his double barrel shotgun and went over to the barn lot. The fox was in the corner next to our line with Uncle O. B., near the road. It just lay there. Three of us went into the lot through the barbed wire: Dad, the other fellow, and I. Dad approached the fox with his gun ready. When it got up, one shot was all it took to "put it out of its misery." The head was sent to Charleston to the lab, and they confirmed that the fox was rabid.

Copperhead snakes were something of a problem but were not likely to be encountered in the open. We know now that the entire underside of any snake is a sensory organ for vibrations from the ground. They must surely know where you are better than you know where they are. This is because humans rely on our eyes to find them, and they are easy to miss if in cover. In recent years I seldom see one, because the work is mostly on tractor, or very slow, like walking fence.

I remember once, however, running through the field across from John Kolb's barn. I saw one in mid stride. I stayed up in the air and went over it - I was in the air a very longtime, about twice my usual stride. Copperheads are bad about NOT running, though. Sometimes they are very aggressive. One night I was up on the strip at United Coals property talking to a group of people who had ridden in on four wheelers. It was nearly dark when one of the riders noticed a copperhead about ten feet away, too close for comfort. Stomping feet and throwing rocks the size of a man's fist did not get it to run away. It would hold its head up a foot off the ground and weave in the direction of people threatening it. Finally someone hit it with a rock about the size of a basketball. Then it decided to run.

Once on the Jesse Run farm we had a black snake come up the stairs from the first floor - very foolish snake. It was after dark and Kurt was in the bedroom on the right side of the house. Esther was in the one on the left. I was in the bathroom and saw it just as it came to the top of the stairs. As it turned the corner toward the front of the house, I yelled to the others to stamp their feet. I followed it down the hall stamping mine and it went through the front door, out on the porch, turned left, and went out into space. It must have fallen on the bushes, and bruised, but certainly not dead, traveled off through the yard.

Black snakes are not poisonous, but are capable of a nasty bite. As mentioned elsewhere, they are good mouse eaters but are not welcome in the house. Aunt Lotta, the Biology teacher, made a thing of handling snakes and claimed there was always one wintering in her house. There was a molted skin in her basement every spring. (Note added: In the summer of 2003, my grandson, Treavor, who likes to pick up sticks in the yard, tried to pick up a black snake, which bit him at the elbow. He walked around the house without crying to where the adults were and announced, "Something bit me!" We thought best not tell his grandmother who lives in Chicago!)

(Illustration 24-1)

The view Northeast across Hunter Kolb's farm, up Clay Lick

Today I would be very reluctant to have my grandchildren go on our hill without adult supervision, and think seriously about carrying a firearm if not on a tractor. Coyotes are solitary but very abundant now. There is good reason for thinking that a bear wanders through now and then. (Note added: in 2006, shortly before this book was completed, James, my son-in-law actually saw a half grown bear across from Kurt's house in the meadow. It is likely the first time that has happened in 150 years, a family member saw a bear on our own property.) They are shy unless with cubs but can not to be trusted. Wildcats are now common but very shy. "Painters," mountain lions, or cougars are sometimes reported but are not common. Except the wildcat, most of these will take young livestock and are hated. They could easily prey on a child.

You have to watch yourself with cattle and not push them too far, but the wild is mostly bred out of them. They are more into jumping fence than charging you. I was attacked by a cow only once. When I found her, she had gotten out and was staying on the hill behind where my daughter Charlita's house has since been built. We used barbed wire at the time, and she had gotten into it, and the flies had laid eggs in the scratches it made. This attracts more flies, and one side was almost covered with corruption and maggots - a real mess. She was in terrible pain. When she made her clumsy charge I stepped behind a tree. She avoided the tree, went on by and stopped. I went to the house, got my gun and killed her with one shot. There was no way she could have been saved, the shape she was in.

Electric fence we use today is far more humane than barbed wire. Barbed wire does real damage, especially in warm weather when flies are out, but doesn't cause enough pain to prevent many animals from challenging it. A good electric fence supplies adequate pain (with surprise) to keep them in, but doesn't cause real damage such as tearing the skin.

In the'80s I decided the future lay with animals of the Limousine type - heavier muscling, less fat, longer and higher. I went to a farm a few miles from Cincinnati to look for a bull. The owner had a herd of 147 purebred Limousine cows, all artificially bred, he told me. We went into a lot with several bulls, he, I and his two dogs. I picked one, walked up to within ten yards of it, close enough for a strange bull in an open field. The dogs went with me. I told the man "that one," and wrote him a check.

Kenny Wagner, Jr. was one of the custodians at Bridgeport High School, and he had a trailer, mostly made from plywood, which he used to haul his purebred Angus cattle around. I asked him to go to Cincinnati to get our new bull.

When we loaded the bull, there were several bulls that came out of the field into the loading area. My bull, with the dogs behind him, ran right onto the truck. There wasn't any human help, except opening the gates. The hired man wiped his brow and said, "I'm glad he went in on the first pass." I asked, "why?" His reply was "Otherwise we might never have gotten him on." The bull fought the trailer every foot of the way from Cincinnati to Jesse Run

He came off the trailer and into the secure lot with a loading chute at the Smith Place without much trouble. So I decided to go into the secure lot with him. My father had cautioned me never to go into a pen with a strange animal without a weapon, and fortunately I chose a pitch fork. As soon as I left the fence, he charged me. I set the fork and braced myself firmly so the fork would hit his nose. Two prongs must have gone in two inches, but it stopped him. As he moved back to regroup, I made a strategic retreat into the chute and closed the gate.

I think I was never in the pen with him, on foot, again. He was trained to the electric fence, thank goodness, by the breeder. I would put cows in with him, he would breed them, then I would lure him into the secure lot with grain and let the cows out. I could take him hay bales but never got off the tractor on the side toward him. Kept him for about two years.

Many of his calves were crazy. When they were first born they would leave their mothers, and go through any fence we had. The mother would often try to follow but would not go through an electric fence. Some of the calves that were not crazy we saved for breeding, because the body type was so good. These heifers would then have crazy calves. I've had an awful time getting rid of that gene!

(Illustration 24-2)

A winter view from our strip job

The breeder would not take responsibility. I simply got "skinned." The bull was finally sold at Weston for beef. I lost thousands of dollars on that animal, and he was the most dangerous animal I have ever owned. If he had gotten out, he could not have been controlled, only shot. I will never buy a bull that is handled by dogs, ever again.

Aside The worst setback in farming I ever had was near the beginning. I had fourteen cows and was still sharing a bull with Dad, who had gone down to just a few head of cattle. This was right after Esther and I were married, and the operation was entirely on the Lost Creek farm. Just a few cows at a time would come down below the strip job, where we could see them. After a week we got worried and Dad and I went up above the strip. The road over the high wall was very steep, and after you got above that it leveled off considerably. When we got to where it leveled off, I went straight up through the trees to the top of the area above the high wall, which had considerable pasture.

When I got to the tree line, I could see a thick, viscous white liquid running down the hill. A few feet further on there were maggots wriggling in the mess, and flies all over it. When I got further on I saw ten cows had been lying under a single half dead locust tree, and all had been killed by a lightning strike, judging by the condition of the tree. What remained was bones, hide, and this viscous liquid running down over the hill, full of fly maggots, approximately equivalent in volume to the ten dead cow bodies. The smell of death was intense.

I didn't give up, but that would have been a good time to do it, had I been so inclined.

Copyright © 1998, 2006, 2008, 2011 S. Tom Bond (stombond at