Playing the name game


One of the great advantages of growing up on a large farm is the thrill of being surrounded by all of God’s creatures.
Name. It was my determined nature to provide each and every one with a name. There were lists in my room for names for the newest calves, kittens found in the hay mow, and once in awhile, if I was really lucky, I would be asked to weigh in on a name for a newly-freshened heifer.
Number. This was in the early days, long before we were forced to go to a number system for all the cows in the herd. The day that my father made that pronouncement was not a happy day for me.
“Numbers? You intend to give these cows numbers instead of names?.” I was appalled.
He explained that it was a dairy herd management tool, a system strongly recommended by the herd tester.
“Actually,” he said, “they have been suggesting it for a long time now. We really need to do this.”
He picked up his pipe and tamped it and stoked it. This was our father’s way of saying “case closed.”
But, in the days prior to this, we had the thrill of the name game.
Our Holstein dairy herd was brimming with personality, according to the four girls in my family, and the names of individual cows reflected the girl who had named her.
Inspiration. My one sister, who loved candy, had named Milky Way and Snickers, while my music-loving nature came up with Patsy and Loretta and Dolly and Barbara.
Then there were the oldies, like Linda and Kris and Peg and Alice. With a flair for the different, one of my sisters came up with names like Gypsy and Jezebel.
When Doc Smith came and saved a springing heifer with a particularly sweet personality, I decided to name her Doc and she became a herd favorite. She was the first in to the milking parlor each morning and each evening.
All these years later, I recall her markings as though I just saw her yesterday.
My friends were amazed each cow had a name, and I could spot any individual they would name from afar.
Different. “But they all look alike! They are all just black and white!” our friends would say. “No way!” we would protest.
Each cow had a very individual set of markings, and each carried herself a certain way while out on pasture.
Linda, for example, walked so slowly she tried the patience of our herding dog, Bill, who usually had the patience of Job.
Kris was aggressive and pushy, a real playground bully.
Doc never ventured very far, and Alice became her sidekick. The two usually entered the milking parlor first and second, standing side-by-side to be milked.
Miss the cows. A friend of mine who recently retired from dairying told me, “I don’t necessarily miss milking, but I do miss the cows.”
I knew exactly what she meant. I feel that many of those cows were a part of my childhood, and there are some I miss to this day.
But milking at 4:30 a.m. in the dead of winter? I think I can live without it if I must.


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Judith Sutherland, born and raised on an Ohio family dairy farm, now lives on a 70-acre farm not far from the area where her father’s family settled in the 1850s. Appreciating the tranquility of rural life, Sutherland enjoys sharing a view of her world through writing. Other interests include teaching, reading, training dogs and raising puppies. She and her husband have two children, a son and a daughter, and three grandchildren.