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Friday, February 15, 2013

Cataloguing the cows

The last time I went over to the cows’ side of the barnyard I didn’t recognize half of them. With three calves born in the last month, I thought I should make a point of writing down who belongs to whom and what sex they are, what colouring they have, etc.  The Farmer is pretty good at writing everything down in his log book but he does leave a few important items out. For example, he doesn’t name them. And he doesn’t note their specific personality traits. These are points that are good to know if you plan to handle one of them, or attempt to retrieve them when they jump the fence.
In the fall of 2007, when we were just a few months married, we bought our first pair of cows. We had gone to Leo’s livestock auction in Greely with our hearts set on a couple of Black Angus but those went through the ring so fast, for such a high price, our heads were spinning. A pair of Herefords was more our speed. Ginger, the older and wiser of the two, is a very suspicious girl, always peering at us from around barn beams and round bales. She once got in between the hay and the tractor, and the fork pierced her side. The week she spent in the paddock, being repeatedly treated until her wound healed, did not endear her to us. If you try to get between Ginger and her calf, you might get yourself killed. The Farmer found that out the hard way, when he tried to help Ginger’s new calf to suckle last year. My husband dodged out of the way of the aggressive mama as she tried to toss him out of the pen. That calf never did learn how to nurse. He was bottle fed until he was old enough to get out on the pasture.
Big Betty arrived along with Ginger, but she was a heifer. She had never had a calf before. Both girls were pregnant when we got them. When their time came, we were somewhat prepared but also a little scared to death in case something went wrong. We had our neighbour, a more experienced cattleman, on standby. On a sunny April weekend, Betty gave birth to a little bull calf. She seemed a little flustered and almost embarrassed by the experience, or maybe it was the spectators. Anyway, she went easy on us. No problems. Ginger had Mocha the heifer the same week.
Mocha has turned out to be a very pleasant animal. She succumbed to hands-on attention from the beginning and although she occasionally protests by tossing her head, she doesn’t seem to mind a pat on her flank from time to time. And she loves apples.  More than once, Mocha has travelled all the way down the pasture, through a gap in the fence, up through the forest and into the front field where she feasted on the source of the heavenly smell. That year I had to actually fill a wheel barrow with the fallen fruit and dump it into the barnyard to keep her inside.
Our first attempt at breeding the cows involved artificial insemination. I showed the girls the brochure and we chose a strapping young mate together. It worked, the first time, so we tried it again. That second year, Betty didn’t catch. She actually looked ashamed and disappointed. Betty’s eyes give away her emotions. And when she is excited about the sound of sweet feed hitting the inside of a bucket, she comes running across the pasture like a pup, often kicking her legs up and swinging her head from side to side. I told her not to worry; she would be pregnant next time. We got a real live bull, who was quite tame and shy at first, but evidently very good at his job. 
So far this year we are doing very well. Ginger, Mocha , Oreo and Betty all had their calves and although the Farmer helped get them started a bit by stealing colostrum from the mom and feeding it to the babe, they are now feeding and thriving. Oreo had her calf and left him in the snow but the Farmer found him before he froze to death. Now it’s Julie’s turn to add to our herd. Hopefully before we leave on vacation and the kids take over farming duties.

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