Cows Escaped and Went to Neighbor’s Farm

19-year-old Helena Muffly wrote exactly 100 years ago today: 

Wednesday, November 18, 1914:  Today passed as other days. A few flakes flew this morning. Wish the snow would get down to business, for then I wouldn’t have to look after the cows. Today they went off to a neighbors and I had to walk after them.

Source: Kimball’s Dairy Farmer Magazine (August 1, 1911)

Her middle-aged granddaughter’s comments 100 years later:

Hmm—apparently the cows were still out in the pasture, but after it snows they will be confined to the barn. During past summers Grandma mentioned several times that she needed to watch the cows. For example, on August 26, 1911, she wrote:

Everything seemed to have gone wrong today. Hard to tell what the cause really is. I have to watch the cows, and I don’t like it but school will soon start and then that task will be ended.

And, on May 18, 1912 she wrote:

What a doleful calamity. I had to watch the cows this morning, I mean this afternoon. I’m afraid that this is only the beginning. They got into the wheat for me.

This is the first time Grandma mentioned watching cows in the Fall in the diary—and I think that it’s the first time that she mentioned it in 1914.

I remain clueless as to why the cows needed to be watched. It still seems like they should have been securely contained in a field fenced with barbed wire, but obviously they weren’t (or if there was a fence it wasn’t strong enough).

23 thoughts on “Cows Escaped and Went to Neighbor’s Farm

  1. The grass would have stopped growing and the fields would be bare by this time in the year so it’s very likely that the cows were chased out to eat rough grass on verges and anywhere there was some roughage left before Mr Muffly had to start using up the precious hay indoors. They’d wander forever unless someone was there to stop them, which would be fine in spring (when grass would also be in short supply), or summer (when fields were being used for haymaking) but a horrible job in November. Brrrr.

    1. You’re probably right that the cows were in distant fields in November. I can see why Grandma was looking forward to snow (even if her father wanted to not use the hay for as long as possible).

  2. Enlightening comment by “highland hind”! Sounds like Grandma enjoyed the snow more than my ancestors did!
    My aunt wrote in her memoirs that she woke up many mornings with snow on her bed.

  3. Isn’t it lovely that we have these hints at everyday life back then!!! I feel that’s going to end with so few writing in diaries. And, a “doleful calamity” is quite a description for a young lady to use!!! And, I agree, what’s going on with those cows that they need so much observation???

    1. I picture that most of the time she just needed to remember to look out the window every couple minutes–and that she had to go out and chase the cows if it looked like they were getting into trouble. But maybe she needed to be outside the entire time.

  4. When I was a kid and the cows got out, we all had to stop whatever we were doing (like watching I Love Lucy!!) and go out and help corral them and get them back in. I feel Helena’s pain . . .

  5. My great grandmother used to tell my mother that her job was to mind the sheep to keep them from getting out of the field – that was in the late 1800s. She occupied herself by teaching herself to knit with bits of wool she collected in the field and hair pins.

  6. I really can’t figure this one out. Maybe she was moving them from place to place. Even if they were grazing, I’d think there would be a fence. Although, come to think of it, I’ve stopped at plenty of farmhouses down here to tell the folks there’s a cow or two that’s gotten out and is browsing the ditches.

    1. I also can remember cows often breaking a fence and getting out of the field–but it always was an unexpected surprise when they got out. Whereas it seems like Grandma sometimes had the chore of watching the cows–but maybe the fencing was of such low quality that it was anticipated that they’d escape if they weren’t watched.

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