Joe Cain’s herd of cattle begins its three-mile route, accompanied
by four donkeys that act as “watch dogs,” and protect the 130 head from
dogs and coyotes.
Joe Cain held his annual cattle drive last Saturday
at his farm in Big Bend.
It was fascinating to watch 130 head of Hereford
cattle make their trek from the farm to the calving barn behind the
veterinary clinic. The cattle were escorted about three miles along the
Little Kanawha River to their new destination.
Cattle climb a hill leading from the Little Kanawha River to cross
the hills to the calving barn.
Cain has been moving the cattle along this same
route for several decades. The cattle are moved to the calving barn each
winter to have their calves. The herd will nearly double in size by the
coming spring. The cows will be monitored and cared for until the calves
The calving barn is an excellent place for the
calves to be born. It has separate stalls full of hay and heating lamps,
along with a fulltime staff to care for them. There is even a bunk room
for a caretaker to warm up or stay overnight to keep watch on the cows.
The calving barn includes separate stalls, hay, heating lamps, and a
staff of workers, when needed.
The day began for a small group of people at Joe
Cain’s home. Joe and son Richard Cain, Bryan Gungle, Adrienne Young,
Richard Young, Jack Jeffreys, and myself, gathered in the living room,
waiting until 8:30 a.m. for the drive to start.
We separated into two groups to ride over to the
Cain farm, which is located about three miles on the other side of the
river from the vet clinic.
There was no easy way to get there, so we drove
eight miles around and down some snow covered back roads. Even though
the vehicle slid a few times, I was riding with an experienced driver,
and we made it safely to the farm.
The cows were counted the night before, and all 130
were accounted for.
As I stood at an open gate, a tractor loaded with a
round bale of hay drove past, followed by the cattle and four donkeys on
The cattle were enticed to begin the drive by a round bale of hay
carried by a tractor.
“They will only run for a short time. They will
tire themselves out and start walking soon,” said Richard Cain.
The four donkeys are the cattle’s “watch dogs.”
They will scare away any dogs or coyotes that would threaten the herd.
My group got back in the vehicle and started the
drive behind the cattle.
On the ride, Richard spoke about life on the farm
as a boy; swimming in the river and hunting squirrel for his
The cattle walked along the river and then cut up
over a hill. The hill was too steep for the tractor and our vehicle, so
we left the herd for about a mile of the drive.
We drove around the hill and came out beside
Francis Cain’s home. We crossed his bridge and drove back to the vet
To get to the calving barn, you have to walk across
a swinging bridge, which was built in the 1960’s, and stands 60 feet
above the river. It spans 190 feet.
The bridge was a little intimidating, since it
doesn’t stay put--and there are no real handholds.
The group made it to the barn before the cattle
finished their drive, so a tour was given of the barns and pastures
where the cattle will reside until the spring.
Besides the calving facility, there is another barn
where the cattle will be placed with calves that are not strong enough
to be outside.
Not long after crossing the bridge, the cattle came
around the bend. They were directed into a field where the sorting
The cows that were closest to having their calf
were placed inside the barn, while the rest would wait their turn
The hands would move 20 or so cows into a small
fenced area attached to the barn. Joe Cain, with the other workers,
would select the cows to be moved to the barn.
Joe Cain watches the herd enter a pen to be sorted.
It took three hours for the drive to be completed.
Richard Cain said that it was unusual for the drive to go that smoothly
and that quickly.