Of Cows

Well, here it is January already, almost February. I have been so busy fighting the weather and making sure things will be right come March that time has slipped away from me!

The girls are due to calve in March; just like most folks' cattle around us. My new friends here are worried about my new calving and have offered advice and help. Of course, part of why I wanted Dexters is that they are known in the breed as easy calvers; no calf pullers or rearranging necessary. Plus twins are common! While I have had my hands in human uteri, delivering babies, turning a calf to come out front feet first is going to be very different! Pauline has never calved before and looks to be carrying one; Billy Jean has calved before and is really BIG - but she is a big solid cow, so she may just have one.

There is the stanchion to be built, the udders to be milked, and then all of the equipment to be bought yet to make the cheese and butter.

Of course I'm nervous! We've both milked before, but never our own animals. I've pasteurized milk and made butter and yogurt, but never on a large scale. And I have never made cheese. But if this venture goes as well as the chicken eggs - which were supposed to be only a personal by-product of living on my farm and has already turned into a small cottage business! - I hope to be the local provider of fresh cream, butter, and cheeses. So many cheeses! Ricotta and mozzarella are the soft cheeses and the easiest to make (according to the suppliers) and the hard cheeses like Colby and Cheddar have to be set up and aged. I am interested in experimenting with all of them, then producing what I do best.

The guys like to kid us about our cows, friendly and teasing, not mean; Duane suggested that they need to be in the parade in May. I actually had tentative plans for that; it depends on the girls and their calves, how settled they are, or even if PoinDexter wants to behave like a bull or is still a pussy-whipped little boy around the girls. I don't want to halter a 1,000-pound animal to try to lead him through the streets if I end up getting dragged around town! Pauline is still too shy, and Billy Jean definitely the "boss cow", so we'll see how the herd dynamic changes once they calve. I may just tether one of the girls and a calf into the back of the pickup and decorate the pickup to drive in the parade; you can't do that with the big Angus or Charolais! But I am still thinking about it. Advertising, is, after all, my avocation.

It pleased me how the cows came through the winter weather; even at -47 wind chill, they hung out in the corral and stomped through the snow, still demanding their treats. Even though ice clung to their whiskers from where they'd been at the trough, and they had little frozen snow-caps on their backs, they were warm and mellow.

Sure, it would have been cheaper to just get two or three cows, and artificially inseminate them every year. But I go on the theory that one never knows from year to year what can happen; availability, federal regulations, even gas prices and the economy could leave me with two or three fertile cows and no production once they dry off. I know that people think I'm crazy and am raising 'pets' not farm or ranch animals, because a bull is just an extra expense. But the attitude that there will always be available bulls, just like there will always be available grants or federal or state money, or even available food and water, is what gets a lot of folks into trouble. I take nothing for granted. I know what I want and need, and I want to be prepared for whatever happens. Not to mention that I wanted a herd bull who could produce all three colors of Dexters and be a constant in fatherhood as to conformity, health, shape, and size. A closed herd is a safe herd. And since the girls will produce calves that are not from Poin's line, any heifers from this group can be bred to him as well. We'll band-steer any bulls and either fatten them for meat or train them to be oxen to pull. Poin doesn't know it yet, but he is a Prince who will be the only bull for many years to come! Of course, right now he is just a shy and awkward teenager.

So maybe I'm not as crazy as people think. I actually have plans and ideas, and am steadily working to make them happen. So I smile and laugh and agree, and joke back, and chuckle. Although I have noticed that those who laugh the loudest at my expense also love the eggs, are impressed at the chickens who continue to lay even in the darkest part of winter, and are waiting to see what kind of butter and cheese we will produce. So it's all good. The dogs bark, but the caravan passes on. Nothing will stop my caravan! Maybe I DO know what I'm doing, after all...

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