The Dairy Farm Adventures: Beauty Queens

Posted Wednesday, May 15, 2013 in Features

The Dairy Farm Adventures: Beauty Queens

by Lee-Rae Jordan-Oliver

Building a dairy farm from scratch can not be compared to growing a garden in the backyard for the first time.  Having ten cows, seven calves, and five heifers on our fledgling farm was like taking a condensed crash course in dairy farming 101.  My college degree in elementary education didn't teach me anything about bovines.  Our cows taught us challenging lessons about life, farming, and the dairy business every day.

One of our first hard lessons came with the realization we had bought another farmer's “cull cows.”  A cull cow is an animal too old, sick, or mean to be a productive member of the dairy herd.    As naive novices, we thought as long as the cow had four legs and an udder, we were good to go.  We couldn't have been more wrong. 

The synopsis of our herd looked something like this:  A huge Holstein named Heidi kicked violently at Matthew every time he milked her.  (Apparently being milked tied to a telephone pole aggravated her.)   Belinda, a gentle Jersey, was six years old and had reached her age limit.  A pot bellied Jersey named Patty thought she was a bull.  She snorted through her nose, pawed the ground, and rolled her eyes if anyone tried to approach her.  I nicknamed her Petulant Patty.  Then there was  Evelyn, a giant brown and white Guernsey who I called our “One Horned Wonder” because she had one twisted twelve-inch horn protruding from the left side of her head.  Appearing dazed and confused, she cocked her head sideways whenever she looked at us.  Her comical expression coupled with her deformed horn made us laugh.   People who visited our farm often asked us, “What is wrong with that cow?”

It was time for us to buy young, healthy cows who would earn their keep on our farm.  Taking advice from an experienced dairy man from the county, Matthew contacted a seasoned dairy farmer and cattle dealer down state named Dale.  In the spring of 2008, Dale drove into our driveway with his dual wheel diesel towing a cattle trailer loaded with twenty pregnant heifers.  Knowing a little more about cows and determined not to get bamboozled again, I marched out to the barn wearing my knee length muck boots.  I was ready to send any suspicious looking cow back home.

I was surprised when Dale stepped out of his truck.  At five feet, ten inches he barely tipped the scales at 150 pounds.   I expected a big, burly man who wrestled cows for a living.  Most likely Dale raised his eyebrows when he saw me too.  I no more looked like a dairy farmer to him than someone off the street.  

The first order of business was safely unloading the heifers who had traveled three hours to our farm.  Dale backed the trailer up to the barn door.  One by one, the young cows stepped off the trailer and walked into the barn. The cows we bought were called Linebacks.  They were mostly black with a wide white stripe running down their backs.  They looked like beauty queens compared to the cows we had.  Dale ordered the cows, “Get up in a stall!” Miraculously they each stepped up into a stall and stood quietly while being hooked to the stanchions.  These Linebacks were pros who had  rehearsed the routine countless times.

After caring for a herd of high strung, mischievous cows for a year, I couldn't believe how calm and relaxed the Linebacks were in their new environment.  “Wow!”  I exclaimed.  “These cows are amazing!”  Matthew nodded his head in agreement and beamed.

Dale took the time to tell us about the cows.  Clearly he cared about the animals and knew their personalities well.  He moved confidently amongst them, calling them by name, and talking to them as if they understood his every word.  When Dale left, he wished us well and told us to call him anytime if we had any questions.

Over the next few years, Matthew called Dale at all hours with questions and concerns about the cows.  He was generous with his time and expertise.  He knew we were rookies, but he never said a discouraging word.  Matthew usually hung up the phone laughing after the two of them exchanged witty jokes.  Dale was an example of a farmer helping a farmer.   Our dairy farm journey may have been short lived if not for good people like Dale who were willing to take the time to help us along the way.         

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