Every cow is beautiful in her own way. Strong and dignified, yet warm and nurturing, it’s hard not to fall in love. But some cows are just more beautiful than others. Red, for example, is one of our favourites.
Red as a yearling (teenager)
She’s a lovely quiet heifer with a very nice udder that milks out easily and Red has had no health issues since she joined the herd. Plus, there’s the X factor. Red is one of the first naturally polled (hornless) calves born on the farm and she was sired by a Holstein bull carrying a recessive red gene. No other cow in the herd looks anything like her, so you can see her from a mile away.
But does all that add up to a winning cow? To find out, we have entered Red in the local Commercial Dairy Cow Challenge. (If you live nearby me and want to enter too, you’d better get onto it now because entries close on Wednesday! The cows are judged on farm and there’s no need to wash, clip or shine the cows, so get onto it!)
I invited the Challenge’s chief steward, Aaron Thomas, who knows a thing or two about cow contests to help me scout for talent amongst the herd.
The cow’s milk production prowess is not considered by the Challenge judges – it’s all about the way the cow is put together. Even so, this is no mere beauty contest. All the elements that make a cow look good have long-term health benefits.
I asked Aaron to offer a quick appraisal of Red’s redeeming features and to identify some of his own favourites. Next, we did something decidedly silly and sought out our ugliest cow so Aaron could explain why ugliness is a health hazard for dairy cows. I videoed his appraisal of both cows. Poor Aaron. I suspect it may have been physically painful to discuss the poor second girl in detail.
Anyhow, the good news is that sentimental favourite Red and four of her herd mates are in the Challenge thanks to Aaron’s expert eye and encouragement! There are different classes for cows of all ages and the judge will visit the farm next week to assess the fab five. Fingers crossed!
I hate paperwork with a passion but a little ink drawing on one archived oversize envelope had me leaning back in my chair, smiling. And here it is.
You see, there was a time when my Dad didn’t pay much heed to details like ear tags. Every herd member was known by the spots on her hide. There was “Lipstick” and “Lipstick’s Daughter”, later joined by “Lipstick’s Granddaughter”. There was “Milk Jug” and, most infamously, even “Sicking Monster”.
And if there wasn’t a name for the cow, he seemed perpetually blessed with inspiration for a fresh christening. It was such a logical, foolproof identification system that Dad was always mystified when a family member failed to understand which cow needed to be drafted from the mob. “Sicking Monster”, for example, was obviously the young cow sporting a large irregular C-shaped black blob with another smaller blob near the opening of the C.
The day Dad drew Cameo began with a decree that dutiful daughter should retrieve three cows from the paddock. Following his post-milking nap, Dad was appalled to find only two cows in the yard. “What about Cameo?”
I’d spent a good half an hour trudging around the herd of 200 cows looking for an obvious Cameo and failed. What you see here is the documentary evidence of on-the-job training.
There hasn’t been a lot of activity on the Milk Maid Marian dairy blog of late because we’ve taken a family mini-break centred around the Royal Melbourne Dairy Show. Held a week or so before the big public Royal Melbourne Show, this event is the opportunity for dairy breeders to strut their stuff.
What struck us as “commercial” dairy farmers rather than showies was the variety of cows and the sheer size of the Holsteins. Just take a look at this cow!
The guy handling the cow was not a midget
We also fell in love with a few gorgeous cows.
Young Illawarra cow – Australia’s own dairy breed
A gentle Guernsey called “Bling”
Beautiful Brown Swiss
Zoe with a dear little Jersey yearling
It’s a great reminder that even though 1.4 million of Australia’s 1.7 million dairy cows are Holsteins, there’s a whole kaleidoscope of cows out there.
How do you know when a cow is fat? It’s not the size of her belly that counts – it is the hollows around her tail and 1108 barely has any. Come to that, she barely has any milk either, which is why she’s got a red stripe painted on her rear. 1108 should be in calf but my suspicion is that she’s not.
We have her and another five cows booked in for pregnancy tests on Tuesday and if she’s in calf, we’ll treat her with a mastitis preventative and send her on holiday to a paddock across the road. If there’s no calf, she will have to be sold.
While many of our cows do not fall pregnant every year, most of them milk well until they are blessed by the bull the next season. In fact, joining cows only every 18 months (“extended lactation“) is now considered a viable strategy for Victorian farmers.
It’s something that we have adopted here for cows that don’t conceive quickly and it works for almost the entire herd.