Herald and Journal, March 15, 1999

The new cows on the block


Every morning now, we check out the dry cow pen for newborns.

We expect to have four cows and heifers calving in the next week. Tom always wants to know if the calf is a heifer or a bull. I share his hope that the new calves will be heifers, but the burning question on my mind is, "Was that a cow or a first calf heifer that just calved?"

Working with a cow that has been milked before is a lot easier than dealing with a heifer that has no clue what you expect from her. Better yet, I know the cow will be wearing a neck chain. You chase her into the barn, you tie her up, you milk her.

With a heifer there may be a few extra steps. You attempt to chase her into the barn. Sometimes she actually wants to go there. We have two extra stalls on the end of the barn where we milk fresh cows. Hopefully, we will get her into one of the stalls and she will stay there, instead of crawling through the front of the stall and escaping.

Tom, Jesy, and I each have our assigned jobs. Tom gets to put the chain around the heifers neck. Remember now, this is an animal that until six weeks ago was out in the cow yard with the general population. They are not really eager to have someone walk up and dangle something around their neck.

While Tom is trying to drape the chain around the animal's neck, put the ends together with a link, and tighten it with his pliers, Jesy and I are tending to the business end of the heifer. Jesy and I push up against her rump to keep her from exiting the stall before the chain can be tightened around her neck. If she tosses her head and tries to turn around, we have to prevent her from trampling over us in her haste to escape.

Most times we manage to get the new mother tied in the stall and milked with only a brief struggle. Occasionally we encounter an animal with a bad attitude. After being chased around the barn a few times though, they usually give up and stand still long enough to be tied in the stall and milked.

For the first few days of milking, the fresh cows and heifers stay in these separate stalls. When they join the rest of the milking herd, we find out just what kind of temperament the newcomers have. Just like people, they have their own personalities.

We have a lot of first calf heifers in the barn right now. There is one in particular that likes to make milking time interesting. She eyes you expectantly as you enter the stall to wipe her udder for milking.

OK, she is going to let you get her ready. Then the milking machine approaches. She stands still until you crouch beside her to attach the machine. Instantly the far corner of the stall becomes ever so appealing. Her rear end is plastered up against the stall divider, and her head is stuck way over toward the cow on her left side.

Getting the machine on correctly is difficult at best when the animal has its legs crossed. You succeed in getting the machine on. She nonchalantly resumes eating her feed until its time to step into the stall to remove it.

Suddenly she begins shifting her weight from left to right in quick little steps like she is doing the cha-cha-cha. Doing your own little two-step, you manage to get the machine off without getting yourself stomped on.

Now, it's time to apply the teat dip. The new mama really hates this part. She plasters herself back into the farthest corner again. Her legs become a perpetual motion machine. You should be happy because she is not really kicking you.

On the other hand, you have just tried to teat dip her five times, and you haven't hit one of the four teats yet.

I can hardly wait to see what our new crop of heifers will be like.

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