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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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The Full Suburban: Home on the range includes rounding up stray cows

UPDATED: Sun., Oct. 24, 2021

Hyrum Ditto feeds a pretend cow at a hands-on exhibit in 2019. This is about the level of cow that the Dittos are equipped to care for right now.  (Courtesy of Julia Ditto)
Hyrum Ditto feeds a pretend cow at a hands-on exhibit in 2019. This is about the level of cow that the Dittos are equipped to care for right now. (Courtesy of Julia Ditto)
By Julia Ditto For The Spokesman-Review

This is a scary time of year: ghosts and goblins, witches and full moons, fun-size candy bars threatening to spoil innocent appetites before every meal.

But there’s one thing that strikes fear into me like nothing else, regardless of the time of year, and it is this: looking out my living room window and seeing my 11-year-old Henry waving frantically at me from his bus stop and yelling at the top of his lungs, “The cows are in Glenn’s backyard!”

The cows, of course, are the four ornery and surprisingly sneaky bovines that reside in our back pasture (on the rare occasions when they haven’t escaped). Glenn is our seasoned and long-suffering neighbor who gets us out of all sorts of scrapes and never makes us feel bad for the hapless things we attract.

So last week, when Henry yelled his dreaded message, and I looked down into Glenn’s immaculately kept yard to see our cows devouring his lawn while simultaneously holding a pooping convention, my blood ran cold.

“No!” I exclaimed, talking mostly to myself but also directing a fair amount of ire toward the heavens as if our failure to maintain a workable fence was all God’s fault, when really it was probably more like 60-40.

I gave instructions to 9-year-old Emmett that he was the man of the house now and needed to get himself and his little brother ready for school because Momma was going down to round up some cows.

You may recall the last time I rounded up cows, I flipped over the handlebars of our four-wheeler and bruised myself to high heaven. As I mounted the four-wheeler this time, I said many prayers and mentally went through a list of people who could help me in this nightmarish endeavor. It was a very short list.

Logan was my first call, but he was half an hour away with his hands stuck in a patient’s mouth and couldn’t exactly run to my aid. Two others were out of town for work. In the end, I called my friend Brook, who was coming our way anyway to deliver her son to our bus stop.

Loyal, capable and well-equipped with a sense of humor, she is absolutely one you want to have on your side in a crisis as ridiculous as rounding up stray cows.

Brook pulled into my driveway and blocked as much of it as she could with her truck, and Glenn, who is in his mid-80s but is always willing to help, came into his backyard and blocked off another escape route. The rest was up to me.

I herded the cows around on the dreaded four-wheeler, muttering and yelling as they wandered this way and that. Finally, finally, they started ambling down the hill toward their pasture. With Brook and Glenn following close behind, I corralled every last one and slammed the gate shut with a “good riddance!”

This was not at all what I had in mind when Logan and I first bought this property and were discussing what animals we’d like to own someday.

“How about cows?” he’d said. I wrinkled my nose; I’d been thinking more along the lines of miniature goats that I could dress up in little prairie outfits. “That’s fine,” I’d replied, “but I don’t want to have anything to do with them.”

“You wouldn’t have to do a thing,” he’d reassured me. “But if they ever escaped, you’d be willing to help get them back into their pasture, right?”

In that moment, my mind’s eye pictured a scene where a darling little milk cow named Bessie had rambled out of her white picket pasture, and I had to set my freshly baked apple pie down on the counter so I could shoo her back into her pen with my apron. It was so idyllic. So quintessentially farm.

“Absolutely,” I’d said. “I’d be happy to do that.” Needless to say, four mangy cows constantly pushing their way through our jimmy-rigged barbed wire fence was a reality for which I was unprepared.

Next time, I hope they escape through the back of our pasture instead of the front. Through the back, they could anonymously join the many cows that roam our neighbor’s adjoining field, and we wouldn’t care one bit.

“Fare thee well,” I’d say, waving them off with my apron. “Enjoy your life on the range. And if you come back anytime soon, we’re eating you for dinner.”

Julia Ditto shares her life with her husband, six children and a menagerie of farm animals in Spokane Valley. She can be reached at

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