CHUM, ULTIMATE COW DOG
Chum was a part of my life from the time I was about three. I have vague memories of going to a farm to pick out a puppy from among a litter which were supposed to be good cow dogs.
Chum was my buddy, ready to play or just lie quietly while I played. But while he was my pet, he was foremost a cow dog. With a hundred acre pasture lot and woods where our forty cows were allowed to roam, Chum was the best hired hand Dad had for collecting the cows in the dark early morning and late afternoons. Chum was always eager to do his job.
Cows seem to have a sense of time probably controlled by the full feeling in the udders that tell them it is time to go to the barn for milking. However, that does not mean they show up at the barn door. In the summer when the cows were in the large day pasture that stretched from the barn across the narrow valley to the hill beyond. They might come out of woods to lie in the sun or munch grass. Or on particularly hot days, they would remain in the cooler woods.
Either day, Chum waited at Dad’s side for “Go get’em, boy.”
Dad’s command sent Chum down the bank from the barn, across the creek where he stopped for a few quick laps before racing across the valley to the hill or the wooded lane. Chum almost never came back without every cow accounted for. Could Chum count? Sometimes it seemed so. There were times when one or two were missing. Dad would send Chum back for them. He wouldn’t return until he found the missing animals or Dad called him back to the barn. Where were the missing cows? Probably they’d found a hole in the fence and wandered onto a neighboring farm. Sometimes a neighbor would call that he had seen them or Dad would walk the fence line looking for their escape route, always Chum was by his side.
During the early summer when the cows began spending nights outside, one evening, Dad would bring all the cows in, and then let the dry ones, those not giving milk, go back out to the pasture. After that Chum seemed to understand which cows were no long required in the barn and would allow them to stay outside while he drove the milkers into the barn.
A heavy rain overnight could quickly send the creek over its banks. That meant the cows were on the far side of the creek from the barn. Fortunately, Chum was a strong swimmer. While Dad watched, Chum crossed the creek and then drove the cows, very poor swimmers, into the water. Sometimes the current would take the cows downstream a short distance, but Chum always came brought them to safety.
New animals resisted Chum’s directives to their own peril. If a cow refused to go where he wanted, Chum ran behind them and nipped her heels. After a few sharp nips, the new animal would decide to comply and go where she was directed.
Friendly, to most visitors, Chum disliked traveling salesmen. He had a furious bark and seemed to know Mom wouldn’t welcome them. Few salesmen had the nerve to get out of their cars and most simply drove away.
When Dad was home, Chum wandered about the farm. If, however, Dad left my mother home alone, Chum understood his duty and stayed in the front yard. On one such day, Mom walked down to our country school to meet me and walk me home. Chum started with her, but Mom sent him home, or thought she had. Instead, Chum sneaked along the base of hill that sloped away from the road. When Mom was nearly to the school, he reappeared, accompanied her the rest of the way, and walked us home.
At age 14 and deaf, Chum was killed on the highway. He was missed by all his family and the neighbors and friends who’d known him. Dad missed him most of all. Chum had been an excellent hired hand and a friend, requiring nothing more than a handful of dog food and a kindly pat on his head.