So, when was the last time you saw a cow running down Route 28 near Herndon?
There are plenty of places in the United States where cows near roads are common, and in some you may even have to wait for a herd to cross the road.
Fairfax County is not one of those places. However, on Monday, October 29, 2018, a few folks driving on Route 28 saw, literally, a four-on-the-floor bovine running down the four-lane divided highway. The incident is an unusual, if not unique, example of the trials of managing a 1920’s-era farm park in a county with more than a million people.
The cow tale started a few days earlier when staff from Frying Pan Farm Park, including longtime volunteer and summer farmhand Kayla Blatman, attended a livestock auction at Virginia Tech on October 26. The Friends of Frying Pan Farm Park had raised funds for Blatman, who is a student at Tech, to attend the auction and make a purchase.
The park crew bought a heifer, named Hokie after the school’s mascot, and a sheep, named Lane after the school’s football stadium. The crew and animals completed their milk run back to Frying Pan on Saturday and, as is routine when new animals are brought to a farm, Hokie and Lane were placed in quarantine. The plan was to keep them quarantined for a couple of weeks to assure there were no health issues.
Hokie had other ideas.
This was the heifer’s first time isolated from other cows, and she had been agitated after all the changes she’d undergone. Open range must have sounded like a good idea. During her stall cleaning that fateful day, the black Angus was placed in a barn hallway that was blocked at the end by a tractor wagon that stood about three and a-half feet tall.
Guess how high an agitated cow can jump.
Site Manager Yvonne Johnson said that Farm Manager Paul Nicholson told her, “The moment that cow’s hooves hit West Ox Road I was on the phone to the police.” Nicholson knows there aren’t many ways to stop a thousand pounds of running muscle that doesn’t want to stop.
Police and firefighters were on the scene quickly and escorted the heifer which, for a while, was free to go wherever it wanted to lead the trailing officials. Hokie ran out the main entrance of Frying Pan Farm Park and turned right onto the rather appropriately-named West Ox Road. She took another right at Centreville Road and crossed Frying Pan Branch creek before taking a left on Frying Pan Road. Police and fire personnel tried to corner her there, but the road wasn’t conducive to rustling a running cow. Road crews hadn’t built the road and its shoulders with that sort of thing in mind.
Hokie rambled along Frying Pan Road to Sully Road/Route 28, where she took another right and headed north to continue her Farmville run up the Dulles tech corridor. Along that stretch, officials tried to funnel her into a trap, but Hokie kept slipping past roadblocks. Eventually she took a wrong turn and headed the wrong way up an entrance ramp, where a couple of nearby good Samaritans who had joined the pursing ‘cownga’ line managed to get their vehicles ahead of and behind her to trap her against a safety wall. Frying Pan staff placed their animal transport vehicle at the only opening in the makeshift enclosure, and Hokie had nowhere to go but into the truck. Her one-hour, two and a-half mile escape run was over.
The evasive cow was returned to quarantine and has been closely monitored to make sure she’s okay after her breakout. This time, there is another cow nearby to supply familiar smells and sounds. And security has been beefed up.
Although we wrote this blog with a light-hearted touch, be assured the Park Authority and local officials took the situation quite seriously as it played out. Police and fire officials were notified immediately, and steps were taken to protect both the public and the cow while the heifer was on the run.
Author David Ochs is the Manager of Stewardship Communications for the Resource Management Division of the Fairfax County Park Authority.