Tuesday, January 22, 2013

The Dairy

The attack came swiftly, while I was seated with my back turned.  The bull drove his horns into the small of my back and twisted, attempting to knock me over so that he could trample me and finish the job.  I braced myself to stay upright, away from his deadly hooves.  He relented for a few seconds before returning with renewed vigor, swinging his head from side to side and prancing about like a boxer in the ring.  I turned back to face him as he approached the second time.  He slowly drew close, sniffed my beard, wrapped his tongue around it and tried to pull it off (I suppose it looks a bit like hay), shortly before ambling away to lick one of our barn cats.  She loved the attention.

Fortunately for me, Gomer the bull is only eight weeks old and doesn't weigh very much.  His horns were about the size of a really big pimple before we burned off the buds. When he's not attacking me, he's a vicious killer of straw bales.  Juniper, his 350lb year-old accomplice (who does still have horns), is experiencing a renewed youth inspired by Gomer, and now attacks me regularly as well.   She's mostly looking for a good chin-scratching though.

We've thus far been using AI for our breeding.  That's AI as in Artificial Insemination -- we won't be using the other type of AI here (our farm is robot-free!).  Initially I had outsourced it, but finally took a course and have been doing it myself for a little over a year now.  Aside from the initial elation associated with sticking my arm up a cow's butt, I can't say I've been all that impressed with it.  We've had some successes, but not nearly what I'd hoped for.  So, when our cow Gertie gave birth to a bull calf, I decided that we might try something different.  If a bull isn't castrated, there is a window of perhaps 6 months during which he will be capable of breeding but not yet aggressive.

Jersey bulls have a reputation as the worst of the worst, though I've seen a few which were fairly docile.  I'm a little apprehensive of taking this route, but we're going to give it a try.  Chances are we'll butcher him as we would a steer at around two years of age, but hopefully will get some cows bred as part of the deal.  It's just like getting to "have your cake and eat it too", only a bull isn't typically covered in rich and creamy frosting.

Before I started kindergarten, two of my favorite books were Dr. Doolittle and Where the Wild Things Are.  I loved the idea of working together with animals, especially big ones.  Even if they were monsters.  Perhaps there's some epigenetic memory embedded in the recesses of my brain, of experiences had by my father or his parents back on my great-grandparent's farm.  Judging by my last name (Veale), the fascination with cows has spanned quite a few generations.

Though I would've at one time been horrified by the very thought of being tied to the daily dairy chores without end, there is a certain enjoyment that comes from a daily routine with these gentle beasts.  They're affectionate, playful (seen this video of our first cow?) creatures, with loads of personality.  It's easy to grow attached, and think of the cows as friends.

The downside to all this is that the primary purpose of a dairy is to produce milk.  When a cow doesn't respond to breeding, (as appears to be the case with two of my favorites), she ceases to produce milk.  She then becomes an enormously expensive pet, whose best use is to become hamburger.  It's tough to turn your friends into hamburger, but such is the life of a dairy farmer, I suppose.  I'm still holding out hope though... both Maggie and Josie skipped their last heat cycle.  Maybe they read my thoughts and decided they'd better get pregnant if they didn't want to visit freezerland.  I've got my fingers crossed!

Morning in the barn

1 comment:

Jennifer said...

If your bull doesn't suit the breeding bill, put us on your list for beef.