Dairy Channel: No two cows are alike

At a producer meeting in Richland County, discussion revolved around the role of proper cow prep and milk let down. One producer wondered if it was just his cows with “brain gaps” that would not let milk down unless given oxytocin.

Brain gaps, what an interesting way to describe the quirks of cows! If you think about it, some of these brain gaps start at birth…

The “I don’t want to eat” calf. You’ve wrestled with this one, usually at midnight on Sunday.

Just born, need to get colostrum in them and instead of grabbing that bottle’s nipple and sucking away like nature intended, they either:

1) do the limp tongue out the side of their mouth “No way am I going to suck on that bottle” routine, or

2) see how loudly they can bawl with the nipple in their mouth. The calf sounds like they are trying to call the alarm and gargle at the same time.

The “you will never break me to a bucket” calf. This is primarily a Brown Swiss trait, but crops up occasionally in other breeds.

When I worked at the Ohio State dairy farm, we had a nice herd of Brown Swiss cows. Don’t take offense, I really like Brown Swiss, but the bull calves make rocks look smart. If not for A.I., the breed would be extinct. This syndrome is why people with Brown Swiss don’t have calf milk buckets. They never get a chance to use them.

The feral calf. Occasionally one of these is found even on farms that make a point of petting and handling their calves on a regular basis. If you stand 10 feet away and look at her, she will try to jump out of her pen to get away from you.

Unfortunately you usually don’t know ahead of time that a newborn calf made this reversion to the wild. If they were born on pasture and allowed to more than dry off, you will personally get to see a calf go from 0 to 60 in less than 15 seconds. (This, of course, will be when you are trying to catch them.)

Wild eyes. This trait becomes most pronounced in older heifers. You know, the ones you don’t have to do much with, between puberty and breeding age and then bred to prefresh. These animals don’t get handled much and the ones that like it that way get used to it.

Then comes breeding time. Better have good facilities to catch and restrain these critters. A halter and fence post probably aren’t going to do it… unless you wanted that fence post pulled out.

Chronic kickers. You swear these cows get a perverse satisfaction in planting a hoofprint on any of your available body parts. Especially the ones that kick selectively.

We had (note the “had”) a cow that hated me. We were milking in tie stalls at the time and all she had to do was see me coming and her leg would start twitching in anticipation. The guys thought it was a hoot because she never gave them any problems. She only became a “had” a year or so later when she expanded her horizons and started kicking them, too.

Plain old mean. Killer’s life could have been very short. She was brought in on a trailer with a calf already born. She was mean and couldn’t keep her feet on the ground.

Come sale day, the farm’s truck was loaded with fertilizer and the manager didn’t want to unload it to take her to the sale. Left with no other alternative but to milk her another week, the milker and the heifer had a serious discussion about proper milking behavior.

After that, whenever she came into the parlor, the milker leaned a stick next to her headlock and she behaved herself. I think she was a part of that herd for another 10 years.

Alley rats. These girls remind you of Charlie Brown’s friend Pig Pen. Or are they “cow trash?” Why do they choose to lay in a cold, hard, manure-filled alley instead of a nice, bedded stall?

As a result of their resting preferences, they are smelly and their thighs and udders are usually slimy. Rehabilitation (a.k.a. tying them in a stall) is only moderately successful.

Masochists. Or slow learners? Why is it that some cows will not stand still unless they are tailed. These animals likely started out as feral calves or wild-eye heifers.

Not having tails, we cannot fully appreciate what this might feel like, but chances are it is not comfortable. When I was a milk tester in Logan County, one farmer had strings hanging from the parlor ceiling so he could easily tie up tails. (Who was the masochist here?)

The smart ones. Along with the cows suffering from “brain gaps,” there is the occasional cow that has a few more brain synapses than the average bovine. Generally, these cows can be a lot of fun, but can cause a few problems.

Where is that switch? Goat was so named because she liked to climb on things. If that got her closer to a switch, all the better. Actually, Goat was about 15 years ahead of her time. She was probably trying to train us to the 16 hours of light, 8 hours of dark routine for milking cows.

When you finished with chores at the OSU dairy, you were to turn out all the lights before going home. If you waited in the dark, you could catch Goat going over to the parlor entrance and switching the barn lights back on with her nose. (Obviously these were nose-juice proof switches).

Door women. An apt name for those select cows who have mastered the art of opening gate latches. The original use of baling twine as a farm aid was to double lock gates against these critters.

A variation on these girls are the ones who can sense the power is off to an electric fence and neatly flip the gate handle off with their head.

Brainless, brain-gapped, average or smart, cows are like snowflakes. No two are quite alike. That is probably what keeps those of us with dairy disease coming back for more.

(The author is the northeast Ohio district dairy specialist with OSU Extension. Send comments or questions in care of Farm and Dairy, P.O. Box 38, Salem, OH 44460.)

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