By David Fleet
Editor of The Citizen
If Pickles the Cow could talk, her tale would be an “udder” delight.
Les and Elizabeth Roggenbuck are the owners of Pickles an 800-pound red poll and short-horned mix cow. Pickles along with the Roggenbucks reside at East River Organics, 2265 North Oxford Road, in rural Oxford Township about a mile east of M-24. The couple moved to the sprawling 75 acre organic farm from Sandusky, Mich. about 70 miles north in 2015. In addition to organic beef cattle, like Pickles, the farm is also home to a variety of animals including hogs and sheep, turkey, lamb in addition to vegetables.
Pickle’s story began earlier this year.
“A neighbor of ours in Sandusky boarded some of our cattle for a few months until we had the pasture in Oxford Township ready,” said Roggenbuck, an organic farmer for more than 20 years. “He kept his cows tagged and marked so they did not get mixed up with our cows.”
Just by chance, a cow owned by the Sandusky farmer and Roggenbuck’s cow, Pickles, had calves on the same day.
“Unfortunately, when we came to pick up our 12 cows in Sandusky in July to bring them back to Oxford Township, the two calves were switched,” he said. “So, when I came back we had the wrong cow-calf combination.”
Roggenbuck said the mistake was realized when the calf was bawling all night for his real mother. “The first night we had the calf it was crying a lot and then the mother cow, Pickles, jumped the fence sometime in the night and just took off,” he said. “At that point, we realized the switch had happened – however Pickles was no where to be found.”
The search was on for the fugitive Pickles.
“We looked on the roads and some of the wooded area of our farm and found no tracks,” he said. “We figured the cow would return if she hears the little one crying. But she was just out of there.”
The Roggenbucks contacted other farmers in the area regarding the run away.
“About two days later, we had a call from a farmer about 20 miles north of us who caught Pickles and put her into a horse pasture,” he said. “She broke out of there and just took off again.”
The Roggenbuck realized Pickles was somewhere in southern Lapeer County and contacted the sheriff’s department regarding the run away.
“A deputy from Lapeer County called us and reported a cow found near the Vlasic Pickle company – about 25 miles from where she started,” he said. “The cow was good – just walking along the road heading north toward Sandusky. They got her to go into a 2-acre fenced in area near the factory. When I got there she was calm but pretty deliberate in her movements – not riled up but just determined. Once we got her home she was well. Just like nothing happened.”
“That’s why we named her Pickles after Vlasic – she was half way home to her baby,” laughed Roggenbuck.
“We figure she took the back roads and at some point must have crossed over I-69 – we’re not sure how, whether she took the overpass or jumped the fence and made a run for it over four lanes of highway ,” he said. “An eye-witness reported the cow was just walking along the edge of road. It must have been a rural route back north to her calf. It’s all about instinct I think and getting back to her baby.”
The farmers reunited the calves and moms.
“The calves both went right to nursing with mom,” he said. “It’s just amazing what animals can do.”
Dr. Ronald Erskine, a professor in the Large Animal Clinical Sciences at Michigan State University emphasized the powerful maternal instinct of beef cattle.
“I’ve heard stories of dogs and cats crossing town or the country to come home—but never a cow,” said Erskine. “However, cattle, especially beef cattle, have a very, very strong maternal instinct that is connected with their roots. They are all herbivorous like deer and bison they can all be very protective of their young. I’ve seen cattle out west travel many miles to find their young. It’s not uncommon.”
Cattle like deer and other animals have a homing device, he said.
“She was very upset,” he added. “It’s not surprising she jumped the fence and took off. The fact that she went in the direction of her calf is just not clear to me. It could have been the direction of the sun or some smell she was following – animals rely on many senses that humans are not tuned in to. The power to find her calf was just very strong and she was on a mission. On the other hand, it could have just been random luck she headed north toward Sandusky.”