I like to think I’m in charge around here but the truth is that I’m way down the pecking order. Mother Nature is Numero Uno, followed closely by the kids and the cows.
A couple of hours ago, I turned up to check whether the cows had enough feed for the rest of the day and this is the greeting I received:
I didn’t need to look at the pasture. I just did as I was told and stuck a prop up under the fence wire.
Don’t worry – they weren’t actually starving but had eaten the pasture out nicely, leaving the 4 to 6 cm residual we dairy farmers are drilled to achieve by our “Professor of Crapology” leading DEPI’s Feeding Pastures for Profit program.
Crapology is the study of cow poo. We need to be sure the cows haven’t eaten too close or too far from pats and conscientiously survey the consistency of their manure. Not too loose, not too firm, not too smelly and as little grain as possible in each gooey pie. “Just firm enough to stand your credit card up in it,” our farm consultant reminds me (and he wonders why I refuse to bring my purse on the farm tour).
Despite the protests, I think we got it pretty right but would you argue with a mob like that?
What kicked it all off: doing the Professor proud.
Scuffles broke out right across the paddock as the weak winter sun lit the stage for a bovine pugilism festival. The cows were feeling magnificent and, unable to contain their energy, were ready to take on all comers.
The kids and I love watching the cows “do butter-heads” and the cows seem to love it, too. For every pair or trio engaged in warfare, there will be a group of curious onlookers and one scuffle seems to inspire more outbreaks.
Does butter-heads have a serious purpose though? Yes, it does. The herd has a very structured pecking order. Cows come into the dairy in roughly the same order every milking and the smallest and most timid are inevitably last. Mess them up by splitting the herd into seemingly random groups for a large-scale vet procedure like preg testing and you can expect trouble. There are cows thrust into leadership positions who don’t want to go into the yard first and lots more poo than usual.
I am sure that in days gone by, these battles were often fought to the death. Strong, razor sharp horns with 550kg of muscle and bone behind them are fearsome weapons. Our calves have their horn buds removed as painlessly as we can manage it early on to avoid far greater traumas later in life and for our own protection.
Soon, they will be spared even this discomfort. Dairy cows are being bred “polled” (without horns) and, eventually, we will have a herd that is naturally hornless. It’s not easy finding suitable polled bulls yet but our breeding centre tells me that demand from dairy farmers for polled semen is now “huge”.
I have my eyes on a couple of German polled beaux for our ladies. I only hope we can get them in time for this year’s mating season.
In the naughty spot
This is the dairy’s naughty spot and this cheeky young cow spends a lot of time there.
She’s a clever little thing and has noticed that there’s often grain under the feed bails when her sisters become a tad overenthusiastic tucking into breakfast. She lurks in the exit race waiting for her chance to quite literally “clean up”. The problem with this is that nobody else can get past her and a traffic jam ensues.
This morning, Wayne’s shooed her away three times and tried squirting her with the hose but her behaviour has continued to be “not acceptable”, so here she is in the “naughty spot” (with apologies to Super Nanny). She’ll be allowed out when she writes “I will not get in the way” 50 times and all her sisters have left the dairy.