Wednesday, August 10, 2022

Interstate accident, cowboys and a snowstorm: The tale of Ferdinand, the lost cow

For over two weeks, Ferdinand the young bull wandered the woods near Interstate 64 in York County. With the help of some cowboys, he was rescued and found his freedom. (Courtesy photo/Victoria Nation)
For over two weeks, Ferdinand the young bull wandered the woods near Interstate 64 in York County. With the help of some cowboys, he was rescued and found his freedom. (Courtesy photo/Victoria Nation)

Nobody was sure where the little black calf with the white face came from.

Roaming in a triangular-shaped wooded area near the fast-paced westbound lanes of Interstate 64, the young bovine bore signs of road rash on his face.

The six-month-old bull living in the woods went unnoticed for nearly two weeks. His new pasture, bordered by Penniman Road, the Colonial Parkway and Naval Weapons Station Cheatham Annex, may have been the largest home he ever had.

But on Dec. 30, he emerged from the woods on Penniman Road, prompting several calls to the York-Poquoson Sheriff’s Office.

“Be on the lookout for this elusive bovine who has been on the loose (in a wooded area near Penniman Road) for several days,” a Jan. 1 sheriff’s office Facebook post read. “Animal control has a plan to catch the cow.”

For over two weeks, Ferdinand the young bull wandered the woods in York County, but with the help of some cowboys, he was rescued and found new freedom.

Finding Ferdinand

On Dec. 18, Virginia State Police responded to a call reporting several cows standing in a westbound lane of I-64, near mile marker 242.

The trooper who responded to the scene arrived to find all lanes clear and the cows in the woods off the side of the interstate, according to Virginia State Police Sgt. Michelle Anaya.

The trooper marked the scene as clear – no accident, no police report, Anaya said.

Then everything was quiet for two weeks.

York-Poquoson Sheriff’s Office Sgt. Damon Radcliffe started his search for the mysterious bull on New Year’s Eve.

Radcliffe retrieved a few bales of hay from a friend and took them to the area the bull had been spotted. The sergeant spotted the black bull, but was unable to get close.

“It was almost like a game to him, like ‘Hey, you can’t catch me,’” Radcliffe said. “For him, it was just one big wooded pasture,” Radcliffe said.

The next day, Radcliffe returned to the woods, and found him laying down near some gravel.

“I called up a buddy of mine,” Radcliffe said. “And I told him ‘We found Ferdinand.”

Becoming Ferdinand

For over two weeks, Ferdinand the young bull wandered the woods near Interstate 64 in York County. With the help of some cowboys, he was rescued and found his freedom. (Courtesy photo/Victoria Nation)
For over two weeks, Ferdinand the young bull wandered the woods near Interstate 64 in York County. With the help of some cowboys, he was rescued and found his freedom. (Courtesy photo/Victoria Nation)

Radcliffe did not choose the name “Ferdinand” before telling his friend he found the calf. 

“It just slipped out,” Radcliffe said. “But then I thought about it and realized it really fit. His demeanor is not aggressive at all.”

Radcliffe, other deputies, and some animal control officers spent several days chasing down the bull through the woods. One day, Radcliffe said the deputies hiked about four and a half miles after trying to corral Ferdinand.

Animal control did several drive-bys in the area trying to find Ferdinand, but came up empty-handed, York Fire & Life Safety Acting Battalion Chief Alan Turner said.

“He really gave me a run for my money,” Radcliffe said. “It’s not every day you have to catch a bovine.”

Rescuing Ferdinand

When 27-year-old Victoria Nation heard about the bull on the loose in York County, she immediately knew what she wanted to do.

In October, Nation and her partner, Jonathan Aulich, started a nonprofit animal rescue in West Point called Grateful Meadows. The rescue is still small, only housing a potbelly pig named Winnie.

“We called the sheriff’s office and animal control, who said the owners weren’t answering,” Nation said. “My vet recommended we call this local cowboy, because catching animals is what they do.”

By Jan. 3, the rescue became dire.

For over two weeks, Ferdinand the young bull wandered the woods near Interstate 64 in York County. With the help of some cowboys, he was rescued and found his freedom. (Courtesy photo/Victoria Nation)
For over two weeks, Ferdinand the young bull wandered the woods near Interstate 64 in York County. With the help of some cowboys, he was rescued and found his freedom. (Courtesy photo/Victoria Nation)

Meteorologists were predicting 8 inches of snowfall, single-digit temperatures and brutal winds, and Ferdinand had already been on his own for two weeks.

“Victoria called me and asked if I could help catch the bull,” said Steve Haislip, a cowboy from New Kent. “I told her yes.”

Catching Ferdinand wasn’t Haislip’s first rodeo.

Haislip has rodeoed – literally – since he was a teenager. On Jan. 3, Haislip and his father, stepson, two friends and two horses ventured out into the woods near Penniman Road.

The group found Ferdinand bedded down near where Radcliffe had left the hay. The group shot a tranquilizer gun to subdue him, using ropes to keep him from escaping when he woke up.

When Ferdinand came to, Haislip said he practically carried the several-hundred-pound bull out of the woods because “he was still a bit drunk.”

In Haislip’s 20 years of catching animals – from chickens, to horses, to goats, to cattle – Ferdinand was one of the easier ones.

“We’ve had some jump in the Potomac River while we were trying to catch them,” he said. “This wasn’t the most eventful one, but it sure could’ve been worse.”

Helping Ferdinand

Although Ferdinand can still be claimed by his owner, he is staying at Nation’s rescue in West Point.

Victoria Nation poses with Ferdinand after he was captured Jan. 3. For over two weeks, Ferdinand the young bull wandered the woods near Interstate 64 in York County. With the help of some cowboys, he was rescued and found his freedom. (Courtesy photo/Victoria Nation)
Victoria Nation poses with Ferdinand after he was captured Jan. 3. For over two weeks, Ferdinand the young bull wandered the woods near Interstate 64 in York County. With the help of some cowboys, he was rescued and found his freedom. (Courtesy photo/Victoria Nation)

Two days after he was captured, a vet gave Ferdinand a clean bill of health, except for an infection where he had road rash.

Turner said animal control knows who Ferdinand’s owner is and has contacted them multiple times about the young bull, but has not heard back.

York County is preparing paperwork to petition the court to gain full ownership of Ferdinand, Turner said. If the court grants their request, the county will then be able to adopt out Ferdinand as they see fit.

Nation hopes to keep Ferdinand on her farm.

“He’s such a baby, and he’s really livened up since he came here,” Nation said.

As for Radcliffe, he hopes to visit Ferdinand at Nation’s farm in the near future.

“He’s pretty much guaranteed not to be a hamburger now,” he said. “I do feel a little attached to him after all this.”

Nation has started a GoFundMe to recoup Ferdinand’s vet costs. To donate, visit the GoFundMe page.

Sarah Fearing
Sarah Fearing is the Assistant Editor at WYDaily. Sarah was born in the state of Maine, grew up along the coast, and attended college at the University of Maine at Orono. Sarah left Maine in October 2015 when she was offered a job at a newspaper in West Point, Va. Courts, crime, public safety and civil rights are among Sarah’s favorite topics to cover. She currently covers those topics in Williamsburg, James City County and York County. Sarah has been recognized by other news organizations, state agencies and civic groups for her coverage of a failing fire-rescue system, an aging agriculture industry and lack of oversight in horse rescue groups. In her free time, Sarah enjoys lazing around with her two cats, Salazar and Ruth, drinking copious amounts of coffee and driving places in her white truck.

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