What I Know About Cows

We are fairly new at this business of raising cattle and even though I have a cattle background I don’t feel that I know much.  My husband, being a retired Engineer, is a book learner.  He loves to read, learn and soak it up.  I’m more of an emotional learner.  So, I just learn by what I observe when I’m around the cows.  They’ve taught me a whole lot.

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Being the kind of learner he is, my husband signed up to take an Advanced Master Beef class.  It is a seven week class, three hours every Thursday night.  I was excited for him.  And for me, because that meant that every Thursday night I didn’t have to cook supper (a meal was included with the class)!

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But guess what?  About that time he took a nine week Engineering Consulting job… and guess who is taking the class?  Yep, you guessed it.   There I sit, every Thursday night, with about 100 men.  And a few very sweet Farmgirls that are there with their husbands.  I’m the only Farmgirl all by myself.   People are nice and they smile at me.  And ask me why I’m taking the class.

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They may ask that because I sit there for three hours enjoying my crochet.  It forces me to sit and slow down.  (Remember my New Year’s Resolution that I wrote about here?!)  So I kind of look forward to Thursday night where I sit down, open my thermos of coffee, pull out my crochet work and relax.  Every week we have a different topic with a different Instructor and it’s quite enjoyable.

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Because I’m not much of a sitter, I listen better when I have something to do with my hands.  I think some of the Instructors are surprised when they ask a question and I raise my hand (with the crochet hook) and have the right answer.

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So what have I learned you ask?  I’ve learned things I never wanted to know.  Like all the diseases your cattle can get.  How to pull a calf (and not break their legs doing it).  How to understand the EPD’s that come with your Bull (or hopefully they come with your Bull).  How to handle your cattle properly so you don’t get hurt or killed.  Some Thursday nights my head is so full of information I’m a wired up mess when I get home.  (Or that could be the thermos of coffee I consumed during the three hours.)

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I’d been thinking that I would share with you some of the things I’ve learned in this class about cows.  But it is just book stuff.  So, instead I decided to share with you the things I’ve learned about cows by watching and being with them.  The emotional stuff.  So here we go.

 

The birth of a baby calf is such an amazing thing to witness; probably the most incredible part is how quickly they stand up. Within minutes of being born the Momma is encouraging them to get up and nurse. I don’t think I’ve ever seen an animal that is as maternal and nurturing as a Momma Cow. It makes me cry (and smile) every time.

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A very calm, friendly cow will turn into a different personality when she has her baby. She becomes a ferocious Momma Bear if she ever feels that her calf is threatened in any way. The dog that was her best friend the day before her calf was born becomes her biggest enemy the next day – especially when the calves are begging to play!  (Belle has learned to pretend she isn’t looking at the calves!)

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A Momma will often hide her brand new baby in a safe location so that she can go eat or drink. The baby will not leave the location, but will quietly wait for the Momma to return. And of course, they always do. (I don’t have a picture of a hidden baby calf because believe me, they are hidden well!)  We had a Momma cow that I knew had delivered; all the signs were there.  But no calf.  I also knew that wherever the calf was, it was fine because the Momma was in absolutely no distress.  It was 4 days before she showed me her baby!

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It is important to the Momma Cow to have a clean, nice looking calf. She will lick and clean her baby and have it shiny looking on a regular basis. The baby learns from the first few minutes of birth to stand still and let himself be spit-shined! We’ve had calves that were half the size of the Momma and they still stood to be licked!  (In the Advanced Master Beef class I learned the “technical” reason why Momma’s lick their babies.  But I guess I just want to think of them wanting their babies clean and shiny so they can show them off!)

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When a new calf is born the other calves love to come and introduce themselves. There is something really precious about one of the bigger calves softly nudging the newest baby in the herd. The big calf on the left in the picture below looks huge next the tiny brand new baby on the right, but she is really only 3 months old – they grow fast!

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Cows are extremely sensitive and if a Momma loses her calf she will mourn for it like a human. Number 173, our Momma that had twins, mourned for days when she lost one of her twins. She was one of our very stand-offish cows, but when one of her calves died, she came to me and literally laid her head on my shoulder and bawled the saddest, most pitiful cry. And with tears rolling out of her eyes.  Of course, so did I.  Honestly, I cried until I thought I was losing it.

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Calves grow up fast.  In just 3 short years they can be a Momma themselves.  However, one of the most special things is watching a calf born on our farm turn into one of the best Momma’s around because she is so comfortable and happy with us!

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It’s not a myth that Momma Cows will assign one of the other Mommas as a babysitter and leave their young babies while they go to the pond or to graze a little further afield. Its a very sweet sight to see one calm Momma with four or more babies!  (This is not as common here in the South where the cows don’t have far to go to drink.  On the Ranch where I was raised in New Mexico we would see it daily.)

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When Momma Cows have their calves they will hang out with the Momma that has the closest in age baby. They always remind me of human Mommies sharing in the stress and worries of having a new little one!

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Every Momma cow is different in how protective they are of their newborns.  Some Momma’s bring their baby out and introduce them to the herd immediately.  Others will keep that baby tucked away in the woods for weeks!

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Cows love human companionship. The minute I drive down to my garden in the summertime they run to meet me there and will all stand around the garden fence watching me work.

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In raising our cows there is one thing that I’ve learned above all else and it is that cows are easy to love and extremely easy to get attached to.  And that I love every single baby that is born on our farm.

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So, for those of you that might be thinking I am learning nothing in my class, I should set the record straight!  I have learned SO much and hopefully I will make myself proud and be a Certified Master Beef Producer at the end of the seven weeks.  I’m thankful for all the book knowledge and all the technical things… I just never want to let that rule my thinking in raising cattle.  I want to raise our cattle with knowledge… but with a heart too.  

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As always, I’m eagerly awaiting your thoughts on my ramblings!

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Until our gravel roads cross again… so long.

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Dori

 

 

Leave a comment 48 Comments

  1. Jordan says:

    Beautiful pictures! Those calves look so happy with their mothers.

    • Dori Troutman says:

      Jordan, Yes, they are so very happy with their Mommas. I think I could write a book about the momma/baby interaction I’ve observed. It is so precious. – Dori –

  2. Joan says:

    Oh yes!!! calves, is there anything sweeter – well guess all babies are the best but calves!!! Love your information, sounds like you are off to a great start being a cattle rancher. You didn’t say what you are crocheting, I’m a sitter like that too – something to keep my hands busy makes my mind work better. God bless.

    • Dori Troutman says:

      Joan, Definitely those little human babies are the cutest thing EVER… but calves? They are a close second! I think I’m always amazed at how they are born, within minutes they are up and nursing, within hours they are walking all over the place, the next day they are running! It’s such a miracle to witness. – Dori –

      P.S. What am I crocheting? WELL… this is the thing. I learned some basic crochet when I was a little girl and haven’t done it since. So I recently began teaching myself with YouTube videos (a great way to learn I think!) and I’ve been making dish cloths and pot holders. The easiest thing right? :-)

  3. Maureen says:

    Oh Dori, you made me cry. I love cows too. They say so much with their eyes! Isn’t it wonderful how much you can learn, just by observation alone? Now you’ll know the technical stuff too, but I think you’re doing just fine without it. Congratulations!

    • Dori Troutman says:

      Maureen, I wrote this blog post a few days ago and had it scheduled to publish this morning.. but last night our class was AMAZING. I think I could’ve written an entire blog post just on what I learned last night. And so I’m feeling pretty good about the technical stuff!! Until I forget it, that is. Thanks for crying along with me… those cows and calves will do it to me every time! – Dori –

  4. Kim says:

    I got choked up when you described the momma losing one of her twins. How heart-wrenching to witness that. I know they’re just animals, but God put something in my heart that is touched by their personalities, instincts and innocence. I know He put it there for others as well…including you.:) My husband and I have a tiny little farm (3 sheep, 5 chickens, and occasional pigs in the spring/summer…also gardens), but we’ve had the pleasure of taking care of a friend’s steers this week because he’s on a trip. For the first time, I’ve experienced bottle feeding a calf. I love it!…even when it’s 21 degrees below zero! I’ve also made a friend in one of the other young steers who cautiously approaches me and has finally let me pet him. (I’m very cautious too…they are so big!) I wasn’t raised on a farm, but there is just something in me that loves it and wants more. Blessings to you Dori.

    • Dori Troutman says:

      Kim, You are right – God certainly puts something in us that makes us love our animals… compassion certainly, but even more than that. I’ve worried about my cows sometimes to the point I have to physically separate myself from them to stop worrying! I love bottle feeding those babies – even in the bitterly cold weather that bottle of milk that is warm to your fingers can really warm your heart! Your friends are lucky to have you help them out. That farmgirl spirit is also a heart thing; doesn’t matter how we were raised or where we live. Thanks for taking the time to write! – Dori –

  5. Meredith Williams says:

    Thank you Dori, your post was very well timed! Our power went off last night and by morning all our cows had no water. With the help of several generators we are back in business but all morning I’ve been thinking……why do we do this?! We run about 125 Herefords and you have reminded me why. Thank you!

    • Dori Troutman says:

      Meridith, Oh the work in the freezing cold weather. Our cows water from our pond and with our extreme icy conditions the last week we’ve been breaking ice. They are actually pretty good about breaking it themselves, but because I’m a bit of a worrier, I like to break it too! :-) 125 Herefords… BIG job! – Dori –

  6. Maria Reyes says:

    Absolutely an amazing post. Made me feel bad in a way, everytime I look at a steak well I will have second thoughts. Maria

    • Dori Troutman says:

      Maria, I’ve had so many people ask how we can eat our own beef after being attached to them and raising them. It is not easy to take them to market; my husband has been known to shed a tear (I leave the farm the day he takes them to market). BUT, I honestly feel it is the circle of life and we raise our beef giving them the very, very best life imaginable. And when you raise steers (the ones that are harvested for meat) there comes a time when that is what raising them is all about. So, yes it is hard. BUT, the flip side of it is this: when you raise your own meat I think the quality is so incredible because of the care you’ve put into that animal that you feel very good about the food that it provided. Does any of that make sense? I was also raised this way, so that helps too! From a very young age I understood the purpose. I notice that my little grand-girls are beginning to understand that too. The hard part of being a Farmgirl I guess. Thanks for reading, writing, and bringing out this side of it. – Dori –

  7. Dori, that is such a good post and Yes they are special. I don’t have one (wish I did) I have seen pictures such as yours and they make me smile. I lived on a farm when growing up, My father worked there and I got to know a lot about farming. Not an expert mine you learn to love it. Keep the post coming and Hugs to you and the herd. farm sister #1020 Juanita

    • Dori Troutman says:

      Juanita, Don’t you love it when pictures make you smile? Glad that mine could do that for you. And the next best thing to having your own cows is loving someone else’s! I went down to check our herd and gave them your greetings! – Dori –

  8. Robin Reichardt says:

    Here is my “circle of life ” story. I started helping out my elderly father 15 years ago with his cow/calf farm. We lost the momma (even after vet came out twice) to a set of twins-one heifer, one bull. Dad and I were bottle feeding them and had them in an enclosed lot. While we were out checking on his other cows on leased pastures a pack of wild dogs got in the lot–no protective momma cow anymore–and chased and killed the smaller weaker heifer, but the bull calf survived the attack. We loaded him up and went to the vet and came back with salves and medicines to apply to the wounds to try and save him. When we got back to Dad’s the wild dogs were back! They wanted to finish what they’d started! So we took the calf to my place and “hid” him in the barn. So he got a sponge bath daily and salves were applied to his many wounds, and of course the bottle feeding continued. During this time a cow lost a calf, and we were able to get her up to barn and “forced” her into letting this calf nurse her. With-in about a week she had “adopted” this bull calf! She raised a real nice calf!

    • Dori Troutman says:

      Robin, These are the circle of life stories that are so sad. BUT, then these are also the stories that are so awesome because it tells the heart of the farmer. We will do anything to save our animals, won’t we? It made me sad, but happy too. I also love the way that a Momma cow will adopt another calf and what a very sweet way to mend a broken heart. I loved your story – thank you so much for sharing! – Dori –

  9. Hi Dori,
    Every time I read your posts I giggle, because we have much in common. I’d be right there knitting and crocheting along with ya! I don’t have cows, but I LOVE them. Growing up in Texas, my dad’s ranch was a weekend getaway for us, so we didn’t have cows, but the ranch next door did and many of the other ranch owners near us did as well. I love their sweet eyes and big noses, love to watch them graze, and when we go to county fairs, guess where you will find me first? Yep, the cattle shows. I crossed a line off my bucket list when my farmgirl sisterhood chapter and I took a class at a farm and we all learned (among other things) how to milk a cow by hand. I started collecting cow memorabilia in high school. I had to stop and tell people I didn’t collect it anymore because some it got to be crazy! I kept some of my most favorite cow themed pieces. Lucky you, with your beautiful herd! Enjoy! Farmgirl Hugs, Nicole (Suburban Farmgirl)

    • Dori Troutman says:

      Nicole, I think that is so true about collecting things… it can get rather crazy with the things people will give us. Which is fun, but hilarious too! :-) I don’t think I’ve ever collected cow memorabilia BUT I do love some of my cow photography and am working on getting some of it enlarged and on canvases for my living room. I grew up with a milk cow and milking was something my brothers did… I think I milked maybe just few times. My daughter and I want a milk cow in the worst way, but we also don’t want to be tied down to the daily milking. That’s not really the true farmgirl spirit is it?! :-) I love the cows, love the farm but WOW do I love my warm house! Ha ha! Hugs back – Dori-

  10. Vivian says:

    Oh yes I love calves and their mommas! I raise miniature cows and it is interesting how each momma introduces her calves to the world.. One momma lost her calf and the rest nominated her for babysitting duty. It was a joy to see as she was very sick and lonesome after her calf left this world. She was a good babysitter and wouldn’t let anyone even the chickens near the calves. It was so funny watching her chase the chickens away! If anyone is interested in cows but are afraid of their bigness I suggest miniature cows. They are less scary and super sweet!

    • Dori Troutman says:

      Vivian, I haven’t been around miniature cows and I would LOVE to. I’m thinking I would love to have a few. But then we would need a miniature bull, etc… right? Our bull would be too big. I love your story of the Momma taking on the babysitting duty of the other calves and keeping everything of danger away (even the chickens! Ha Ha!). What are your breed of miniature cattle? Thanks for sharing! – Dori –

  11. bernie kemp says:

    Love the pictures!

  12. Betty Benesi says:

    Dori: I have a terrible time with parting with any animal I that I live with. I hesitate to say own because I believe we are more in the nature of custodians. In any case, obviously the cows are raised to sell for beef, but how can you possibly part with them after you know them? I don’t think I could do it. I am a person who has rescued baby birds out of the cat’s mouth. I tend to anthropomorphize sp? I admire your efforts!

    • Dori Troutman says:

      Betty, That question comes up a lot (even between my husband and I) and it is a hard one to answer. It probably deserves an entire blog post all on its own! I will copy and paste here the answer that I gave to another reader this morning:

      “I’ve had so many people ask how we can eat our own beef after being attached to them and raising them. It is not easy to take them to market; my husband has been known to shed a tear (I leave the farm the day he takes them to market). BUT, I honestly feel it is the circle of life and we raise our beef giving them the very, very best life imaginable. And when you raise steers (the ones that are harvested for meat) there comes a time when that is what raising them is all about. So, yes it is hard. BUT, the flip side of it is this: when you raise your own meat I think the quality is so incredible because of the care you’ve put into that animal that you feel very good about the food that it provided. Does any of that make sense? I was also raised this way, so that helps too! From a very young age I understood the purpose. I notice that my little grand-girls are beginning to understand that too. The hard part of being a Farmgirl I guess.”

      So, yes Betty, it is VERY hard. One day I cried about one of my favorite steers that my husband took to market and that is when my husband admitted to me that it is the hardest thing about raising cattle for him also. It helped me accept it a little better, knowing that it IS part of being a cattle farmer/rancher. I have also heard people say they don’t name them, get close to them, or get to know their personalities because then they become pets. I haven’t experienced that for myself… I actually do better if I know that I’ve put 100% into them both physically and emotionally. We all deal with it in different ways. It is hard regardless. Thanks for asking though! – Dori –

      P.S. I rescue birds out of cat’s mouths too! :-)

  13. Bonnie Ellis says:

    I have to tell you a funny story. My cousin raises beef cattle and has never raised a calf. He and his grown son do the farm together. One time they bought several cattle and 3 of them turned out to be cows. They gave birth and his son had to look on the internet to see how to get the calf to drink. I thought I would die laughing. Just goes to show he who farms does not know everything.

  14. Patricia says:

    My husband and I have a small herd, and those calves really do grow fast. I think it’s amazing that cows can have such different personalities. Some of the cows are standoffish, some are very friendly, and some get so excited to see you they will nearly run you over! We have 3 that we raised on the bottle, and those are extra special to me. You can really form a bond with them, and us humans can become awfully protective of our calves too! They are wonderful animals to have.

    • Dori Troutman says:

      Patricia, They ARE wonderful animals to have. I think they are almost human-like in their personalities, don’t you? Kind of like how some of us are introverts and some of us are outgoing and friendlier, etc! Those bottle calves become our babies for sure. Thanks for writing! – Dori –

  15. kim says:

    Oh my goodness Dori, I cried a bucket reading this post – thank you for sharing your emotional knowledge. Glad your getting the book smarts, but oh how nice to have the two to go hand in hand. Awesome for you and your cow family.

    • Dori Troutman says:

      Kim, I’m thankful that the book stuff and the emotional stuff CAN go hand in hand. What a sad farmer we would be if we didn’t have a bit of both, right? (Even though I do lean pretty far on the emotional side! Ha Ha!) Thanks for writing, Kim. – Dori –

  16. Sherlene Williams says:

    I am so glad that I am not the only one that loves cows. I had a great teacher, if only I had really listened. That “I know it all” attitude has been gone for awhile now. I go out everyday, walk through them, stopping to talk to them and checking to see which I think is going to calve next. There is Sweetums, Sassy, Opal, PeeWee, Cutie and Chia with all of her curls. All have their names, and even with them being all black I can tell who is who. I have sat in the tank holding up a cows head to keep her from drowning until Wilson could get there with the pickup and ropes to drag her out, lanced swollen up balls on their face and injected iodine to get rid of infection from lump jaw, even had a cow die while in labor and we cut her open to save the calf. His name was Charlie, born on my birthday. The hardest thing for me is to sell an old cow. Born and raised on the ranch, knowing nothing else, I worry about them being mistreated. Wilson finally told me he would not take me to the auction again if I cried. Hhmm, I thought I was being very discreet. Each has their own personality like Sassy the dancer. Sassy climbed into every feeder we had and bounced around in it until it was totally demolished. Anyway my husband has told me I was weird when it came to my cows, but some of that weirdness is in him too. Love your stories Dorie, look for them everyday.

    • Dori Troutman says:

      Dear Sherlene – You DEFINITELY had a great teacher. I remember many times when I was growing up I would hear Mom and Dad talking over some cattle issue and Mom would say, “I’ll call Averil, she’ll know”!!! :-) And she always did didn’t she? I have learned there is NO TOUGHER farmgirl than the ones ranching out West – more land to care for, harsher conditions, more cattle, etc.. And my Mom is right up there with the best of them, as was my Grandmother and yours (and now you!). Loved your stories, Sherlene. Thanks for writing! Hugs – Dori –

  17. Kristy says:

    This week I met a woman whose husband and brother-in-law are raising bison here in northwest Indiana. I was wowed. I plan on going to see them this summer, when they welcome the public on Saturdays.

    I’m not really into cattle or bison, but people who are, always speak of them with love and respect.

    • Dori Troutman says:

      Kristy, it would be fascinating to learn more about the Bison. I have never been around them – only seen them from a distance really. I have eaten a Bison Burger before and it was quite delicious! – Dori –

  18. susana says:

    Dear Dori, I believe all animals have the heart for… Humans….its built in them by their designer…I feel being close to animals is as close as we can see G*ds love and heart in creation….that he truly does have a heart and cares…I think its beautiful!

    I love how you have to keep your hands busy and bring your crocheting with you to the class ( you sound like me, I take my
    crochet with me to, when I’m away from home, hate/wasting
    time sitting some where). I think its so sad how cows mourn
    their loss of a baby. And that it comes to you and lays its head
    on your Lap. Do you tell them you miss their baby too? And tell
    them they can have another or just cry with them?my heart
    goes out to animals. Sometimes all you can understand from
    them is their emotions. ( I can tell when my dog us is angry with me ir afraid, she shows her emotions,,and the faces she makes and thrust out at me tells a lot! Animals are smarter than
    people give them credit for. I think you will be a Grand Master at
    whatever you do…,you have a big heart! Hugs Susana

    • Dori Troutman says:

      Susana, I used to think it was horrible that cows mourn their babies and then I decided I love it. It means they have a heart to love and have compassion, so therefore it means they have the ability to love and care for us too! :-) I think I would be more sad if they didn’t mourn the loss of a calf. And YES, the Momma that lost her calf and came to me for comfort, I definitely talked to her about her baby. Yes, animals are way smarter than we give them credit for! Thanks for writing – Dori –

  19. Brenda Towsley says:

    I just want to reach through my computer screen and run my hand down one of those beautiful faces! And the story of the mother cows sadness from losing one of her calves caused me to sigh and almost cry myself. Thank you for sharing what your everyday life has taught you about cows and such lovely pictures.

    • Dori Troutman says:

      Brenda, I think photography should make us want to reach through our computer screen, so that was a huge compliment to me! (And to those darling calves!) Thank you for writing! – Dori –

  20. Denise Ross says:

    You have a balanced approach to learning. I love it. It’s the best way to approach life too.
    Blessings from Australia

    • Dori Troutman says:

      Denise, thank you. And I hadn’t thought about it, but you are right. Balance is so important in every aspect of our lives, isn’t it? Happy Summer to you all over there in Australia! (Or are you approaching Fall?) – Dori –

  21. Kathleen Lussier says:

    This is great blog and awesome pictures. Would you mind if I tried to paint some of your cows just for myself? Sincerely
    Kathleen

  22. I too live on a farm in south western Mn. We also raise cattle….Limousine and Angus cross. They are such docile animals for the most part. Just the other day we lost a calf. Momma was a first calf heifer and altho hubby was keeping an eye on the Mom he still called the vet as he knew he had done everything he could by himself. Even tho the vet was called.. his fee was nominal compared to the loss of the calf. I had been posting on Facebook and there were so many people saying how sorry they were we loss the calf. Happy to report Mother is doing fine and has rejoined her sister cows. Life on the farm has it’s ups and downs…and lots of work…but we love our lives and that will never change .

  23. Look forward to my Mary Jane magazine coming in the mail. Always something to share with all the sisters!

  24. Marilyn Godfrey says:

    During the time we were milking cows, I also learned a lot. One of the most interesting things was when we moved the new mama and her newborn from the maternity pen back into the herd, all of the other cows would gather round to oooh and ahhh over the newest member of the herd. Just like humans do. We also had a cow who never had a baby who survived. I cried as I watched her fight the buzzards who were trying to get to her just born, dead baby lying on the tank dam. She wanted a baby so badly that each and every time a newborn was introduced to the herd she would work her way through the group of admirers, and gently talk to the new babies. One day she had three who began to follow her, until their mom’s realized what was going on and raised their voices in protest. Animal behavior is often much like human behavior.

  25. Meg Higgins says:

    Such beautiful pictures, and your feelings about your cows echo my own feelings. We raise little Irish Dexter cattle here in Central Illinois and I look forward to calving season every year. Thank you for sharing your precious cows with all of us.

    • Dori Troutman says:

      Meg,

      There is just something about cows that is almost human-like isn’t there? I do love them.

      Thanks for writing!

      – Dori –

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