The cattle egret attended Red and Sox for two seasons. He de-ticked and chased flies from nine to five, like it was his job.
What do you call a dim witted steer? An oxy moron. I made that joke up and have always found it funny. It has been my experience that steers and bovines in general are far from lacking in the brains department. This makes my joke funny to me because it is a true oxymoron. I grew up with angus cows and watched their behavior closely. They always seemed to be watching mine too with curiosity. The intelligent, friendly and curious face of cows has always made me love them.
When I finally had my own farm, the first animals I got for it were a team of oxen. An ox is a castrated male cow, over 3 years old, who is trained to work. Their names were Red and Sox. They were a beautiful, 4 year old pair of red Dutch Belt steers. Their breed is also called Lakenvelder. It is an old landrace variety. The breed is not particularly specialized at any one task, like putting on weight for meat or producing copious amounts of milk. They are generalists. They don't need anything but pasture grass and hay. They can convert this to meat and dairy much more efficiently than can the newer more tampered with breeds that have been specialized.
But, I did not get Red and Sox to eat, to breed nor to milk. I got them mostly to admire. I had always wanted to drive a team of oxen. I had pasture, too, that was in need of browsers. This was Red and Sox's main job at my place, eating grass while I watched and admired them.
They were lovely and intelligent pets. I looked forward to grooming them and spending time with them every day. Their yoke weighed 50 pounds. Since I needed help lifting it on to their shoulders and getting them into their bows, they only wore it once during the years I had them. I had initially dreamed of taking them to fairs and clinics to work them and to learn more about oxen and droving.
Instead their coats glistened from the daily brushings and they were admired in their pasture by many for their good looks, long horns and clean bodies. My vet often said they were the cleanest steers he had ever seen - clean enough to live in somebody's house.
Red and Sox were very attached to one another, as most oxen teams are. Oxen are raised together from weanlings and spend their years working side by side. One partner for life. All those tiny little yokes you see at antique stores aren't just tiny models of real yokes. They are yokes for tiny little oxen babies. By the time a team is full grown they are very attached to one another. There are many stories of oxen having to be put down when their teammate dies as they can be so distraught. Red and Sox were certainly no exception to this rule of togetherness and were always side by side in their large pasture.
Being of the same age, same kind and having been raised from weanlings together, one would think they would have been similar in demeanor. They weren't. Sox was slower, less rattled, more easy going, friendly and food motivated. Given his love of eating he was always just slightly over weight.
Red was thin, more nervous, less quick to trust, suspicious even, but craved love and attention. He was smart, too, and more picky about his feed. Red knew the difference between the higher quality hay the mule and pony got and the hay he was usually thrown. He would stand and stare at me and make what I was sure was a silent protest for equal treatment. Thus was born the two feedings of hay. First, Red and Sox would be given all the hay the equines had not finished during the night. Then they would get their own hay in their manger. Red would also stare at me over the fence when he wished to be patted, given attention or to be offered a carrot.
Like dogs, they would come when called. There they would appear from out of the tree line, running along side by side across the pasture. Also like dogs, they would get too curious. A quill in the nose or the smell of skunk on their faces would be the indication.
One day I looked out the widow and thought I was seeing them chasing a white plastic bag along the ground. I stopped what I was doing and went out to get it before it could be consumed. Cattle are known to eat strange and unhealthy things. Vets call it hardware disease, ingesting objects like nails, bolts and washers. I did not want Red or Sox to become victims.
When I got to the fence I saw not a plastic bag but a cattle egret. Red and Sox would run to sniff the bird and it would flutter forward just out of their reach. Eventually noses made contact with feathers. By early afternoon the bird was sitting on their backs and running around them eating flies while they laid down chewing their cuds.
The cattle egret came for two summers and had the hours of a nine to five day job with us. He would arrive every morning around nine and stay till around five. I saw him arrive and leave many times but do not know where he came from or where he went at the end of the day. The bird, while he was with us, became another member of the farm family. His comings and goings fell right in with the rhythm of our days, the feedings, groomings and partings. It was a balanced and intelligent rhythm. We all added something necessary to each others lives. There was no oxy morons in my pasture, only rhythm and a sense of bliss, a bliss brought on by my intelligent bovine companions and a visiting bird.