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Thursday, October 30, 2008

The Arrival of Betty and Ginger

The sheep can only eat so much. They need help keeping our 200 acres neat and tidy, so Farmer Fisher decided we should get…beef cows. They would keep the grass down for us, perhaps keep the wolves at bay with their sheer size, and they might even make good pets for the next 8 or 10 years. That was the plan.
So off we went to market. My husband was thinking, Black Angus would be nice. The cows are typically smaller in size, and the beef garners a good price. We arrived at Leo’s Livestock barns early on Saturday morning, and wandered around, looking at the numbered cattle. There were only about 5 black cows, so we recorded their numbers on our list and went to take a seat in the auction gallery.
It was a full house. I had been to auction once before, when the farmer sold his lambs. But I had never been on the bidding end of the deal. The auctioneer rattled off the details of each cow, in both official languages. John Michael Montgomery’s “Auction Song” kept running through my head: “she’s an 8, she’s a 9, she’s a 10 I know…” I tried to focus. Most of the chatter around us was in French, and we struggled to keep up with the numbers.
The cows were sent in two at a time, and one of the workers walked the ring with them, smacking them none too gently with a wooden cane. I realized that it was necessary to turn the cows so the spectators could see them from all angles but after the first ten minutes or so, I wished that just one of the beasts would step on his foot. Most of the cows went for between six and eight hundred dollars, depending on their size and breed.
Then two of the Black Angus cows were up. The bidding started at 700, and Farmer Fisher jumped in. 750, 770, 800…these cows were going to get much more than the other breeds, he suddenly realized, and promptly dropped out of the race. The same quick bidding happened with the next three black cows and, before we knew it, they were all gone. We looked at each other. Black Angus were going for $1200 in the newspaper. $800? Not so bad. But we had missed our chance.
A few bids later, we bought a Hereford mixed with Limousin (I had been studying – she had white curls on her brow, and she was a bit oversized…) and then very soon after we became the new owners of another Hereford, a bit smaller. My head was spinning from the excitement. I sat on my hands to keep from clapping them (which would have clearly identified me as a newbie, if it wasn’t already obvious).
“Herefords are nice,” I comforted my husband, who was sulking over missing out on the Black Angus. I told him he probably only wanted the black cows because he has a black dog, a black truck, his wife’s hair is almost black, and he is a creature of habit.
We went to the catwalk and looked down over the cows, searching for our numbers. There were our girls, two red and white cows from different herds, penned together. Already they seemed to be communicating with each other. The smaller one looked at us. She seemed suspicious. “The big one looks like Ugly Betty,” Farmer Fisher declared. I warned him that such talk would not be permitted in the presence of our animals.
Later that day, our cows were delivered. The drover got his truck stuck in the mud, and Farmer Fisher had to pull him out with the tractor. The cows peeked out between the wooden slats of the truck, their eyes crazed with fear. I made soothing noises in their general direction, in an attempt to comfort their jangled nerves. I was the cow whisperer. We set up the barricades and opened the truck. The cows calmly walked into the part of the barn that would be their home for the next week. We can’t let them into the yard just yet, or they might try to run away. They need to settle in first.
We have 5 teenaged daughters in our blended family, but they aren’t all “farm girls”. In fact, most of them are more at home in front of the computer than in the barnyard. I brought the girls into the barn, to meet the new additions. Most of them pronounced the cows smelly and ugly. Annie pronounced them “Ginger” and “Betty”.
Every morning, I check on the “girls”. I fill up their water barrel, and make sure they have access to fresh hay. Betty, the bigger breed, is a heifer. She hasn’t had a calf yet. She is in for a surprise come April, as she is now three months’ pregnant. Betty is more trusting also, coming up and licking my hand with her sandpaper tongue. Ginger is pregnant too, but she has been through this before. She is the older and wiser of the two.
In a few days, we will let them out into the barnyard. And another week after that, they will be let into the adjoining pasture. I want to spend some time interacting with them this weekend, as I have been doing some reading on the Internet and I’ve learned that cows really do make good pets. They are said to be the smartest of all the barnyard animals, even more intelligent than a dog or a pig – which is reported to have the intelligence of a three-year-old child. Farmer Fisher says he can’t wait to see Ginger and Betty play fetch.

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