Oregon writer, Rain Trueax, and Oregon painter, Diane Widler Wenzel co-author Rainy Day Thought. Diane generally posts on Wednesdays and Rain on Saturdays. There may be extra days or changes as situations warrant. Comments are always welcome and appreciated as it turns an article into a discussion.

Thursday, May 18, 2006

The nature of a herd

Tuesday evening, an hour or so before the sun would disappear behind the horizon, I kept hearing the bawl of a cow. That isn't too unusual when they have young calves, but most of our calves are now past the age where cows are concerned if they can't find them right away. Finally, I told my husband he needed to go check (This is called passing the buck, but I had some excuse as I was already in my nightgown).

When he got into the field, he saw an older cow standing over a newborn calf and using her head to point him toward a younger cow down the field. He quickly assessed the situation. The older one was not the mother. She was watching over the newborn calf and alerting my husband that its mother was not doing her job.

The mother was young, small and had just had a large calf. She was off grazing, relieved probably that the 65 pound thing was finally out. Sometimes first time calvers aren't sure what happened-- not to mention worn out by the experience.

My husband came back inside for me and told me I'd have to come out and help him separate the mother from the others to put her in the barn with her new calf. I stuffed my nightgown into jeans and grabbed a shirt to look halfway respectable in case a neighbor drove up the road. He carried the calf into the barn, and then we went after its mother.

I was surprised, but should not have been, how the herd seemed to understand what was being done and didn't spook or even come with us as we gently edged the young mother out and walked her back down to the barn. Once inside, she began to make the low moo that they do to their young . After my husband spent some time getting the calf its first feeding and for awhile will keep an eye on it to be sure it is being fed regularly, it looks like it will make it, and if it does, it'll be thanks to that old cow. Whether the young mother will adequately care for it or whether it has to be orphaned out, it will live. Cow mothers are not automatically good ones though. Think teen-ager when you think of this one and you have it. Some are good moms that young and some are not.

People who are not used to being around cows often think they are dumb creatures with no feelings. Wrong! They do reason, some more than others, and their instincts are strong. Most of them care for their families and that can include several generations in a herd. If a cow and her grown calf are separated, even years later, when they meet up again, it's nose to nose, lick lick, and boy am I glad to see you.

When any animal dies on the place, the cows gather round and again express themselves loudly. Something happened that was not supposed to. Coyote on the place? Cows are there first to chase it out of the field. The cows have hierarchies where there are alpha and beta animals and yes, those who get pushed out of the herd to stand on the fringes. If you ever spend time with a herd of cows-- a functioning herd with bull, his ladies and all their babies-- you can only have respect for the nature of the cow.

One year, before we understood how a bull took care of his herd, we had a steer killed down around the house and let the cattle be in there right afterward. Our bull at that time was named Lawrence and although he normally had a very gentle nature, that day he went crazy. He circled the house for hours. Every time he'd get soothed a bit by having gone away from the scene of the death, he'd come back around and start his loud bellowing all over again. I have never heard such a sound of pain and yes, rage. It was awesome and I was not about to be out there that day to get in his way of circling. Eventually he left, but not before a suitable wake.

We have the privilege of being able to raise these animals to feed others and we also can allow the cows to live out their lives here; something big ranches, where economics have to be primary, usually cannot do. We also are close enough to watch the interaction of the herd animals to each other. That is the greatest privilege.

(first picture of calf is when about 12 hours old-- second at 24 hours. She is, by the way, a heifer)


robin andrea said...

What a great and informative story. Our lives are so enriched when we spend time around animals. They really do have much to teach, and not only about themselves, but about our own ability to hear, see, and empathize.

It is interesting to read that you "passed the buck" to your husband. I did the same thing with dpr and the empty nest. I didn't have an excuse.

Parapluie said...

I am so happy to read your experience. If more read this they would be even more unhappy with feed lots.

JunieRose said...


I enjoyed reading about your cows!

We also have a small herd of cattle here in Ocala, Florida!... It's just a hobby thing, mostly, for my husband!

I have a lot of great memories with the cows over the past several years... A big part of that was having the grandkids involved, in past years!

Nothing like being the first to discover a newborn calf with your little granddaughter! :) We named that one Sunshine because we found her in the mid-morning sunshine!

We still have Sunshine,too! She's produced many fine calves for us!

I name all the new calves and that makes it hard to butcher them for our own use! Silly, I know , but how could I eat something I had named and photographed as a cute little baby? We sell most of the new calves at a few months old...except , now and then, keep the girls for breeders!

Our cattle are just mixed breeds. ;) It makes it fun seeing how they all turn out!

I have a few cow and farm stories on my blog, and have posted some pictures!(Archives)


Carolyn said...

What a wonderful read. I can't even begin to express how much I enjoyed this post and the interesting facts about cows you pointed out too. How wonderful about the older cow taking concern for the neglected baby. Pictures were great to see. What a great life to raise and care for these animals and understand them.