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Shut the gate

Published June 23. 2012 09:01AM

Growing up on a farm in South Dakota, "Shut the gate" was one of the Golden Rules we lived by.

It was right up there next to, "Never miss Mass on Sunday," "Always love your neighbor as yourself" and "Don't forget to Shut the Gate."

Gates are made to keep animals in or out of certain areas and leaving them open to have the animals roam was just a big No No for any farmer or rancher.

If you have gone through a gate that was shut, you are to automatically close it right behind yourself.

Gates that were shut and then left open are an invitation to a livestock disaster.

I remember one such incident many, many years ago.

My dad was using the John Deere farmhand loader to replenish the hay bunks in the cattle yard behind the barn. He asked me to please shut the gate when he finished as he was heading straight out to start some field work.

No problem. I had done this many times before. I knew I had some time before I had to close the gate as our dairy herd was grazing in the north pasture about 12 miles away from the barn.

It was a beautiful, sunny, spring day and I remember going in the house for a drink of water. While I was there I saw my mom must have walked to our mailbox at the end of our driveway and brought in our day's mail. Much to my excitement, I saw an issue of a teen magazine had just arrived.

I headed off to my room, opened up my bedroom window (our farmhouse windows were very close to the ground) to let in a cool breeze and flopped down on my bed.

Soon I was off into the world of celebrities, dreaming of a new hairstyle and reading the latest dating "do's and don'ts."

As I was lying on the bed, I was quickly brought back down to earth by seeing a large black and white animal walk by my window.

OH NO! The gate! I had forgot to shut the gate that I promised my dad I would do! The cows had come back to the yard for water and one of them had found the open gate and they were all loose!

I jumped up screaming "Help!" to my mom. She and I both ran to the front door where we saw 35 Holstein cows going in about 35 different directions throughout the farm. We immediately knew rounding up all the cattle was more work than just the two of us could handle. I ran to saddle up my horse and my mom got in the pickup to fetch my dad, who thankfully was doing field work only a mile away.

I remember thinking to myself that I round up these same cows each evening for milking time and they always walk so, so slow back to the barn. Now that they were free and out of their pasture, the cows were running like they were crazed!

Long story short, it took us almost three hours, with the help of our close neighbors when they saw our dilemma and dropped everything to come and help, my dad and I on horseback, and my mom in our pickup, to finally round up all the cows and get them back where they belonged.

My dad closed the gate after the last one was in and just looked at me. He didn't have to say a thing. I knew by my carelessness I had cost him hours of precious planting time and our neighbors' time away from their busy work schedule.

The Golden Rule "Shut The Gate" had been broken.

Luckily no damage had been done. The cows had not eaten anything they shouldn't have or cut themselves up by going through barbed wire fencing.

It was not the first time, nor the last time, that a gate was accidentally left open on the farm, but it was the one and only time I was directly responsible.

Post-traumatic Open Gate Stress Disorder is something I would like to bet all farm kids have experienced one time or another.

Moving to Pennsylvania and raising our family in a half a double in Palmerton, our fenced-in backyard had only two gates to shut.

More times than once, the gate was left ajar and one of the kids would come running in hysterical that our dog was loose. One lone puppy running around the neighborhood just didn't carry as much weight as those 35 Holstein cows scattered about so long ago.

No, we didn't saddle up horses, nor did we have to enlist help from the neighbors. We just calmly went out front with a dog biscuit and called his name and he came running back.

Golden Rule "Shut the Gate"...not such a big deal when you live on the block instead of the farm!

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