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From the Farm

Herd mentality

February 12, 2010
By Kerry Hoffman

Just in case you didn't know, cows have certain actions they do when something is going awry. Cows are actually quite easy to read. They are so large; they can't hide their body signal.

Sometimes they run in the other direction, if say, a cat jumps out at them. It's a spontaneous action that frightens them into fleeing. Never ever sneak up behind a cow and yell "Boo!" if you want to pet her.

Cows will totally stretch their necks out when a person scratched underneath their heads. That means they are totally getting a good vibe from the rub down. If you scratch a cow near the base of her tail, her tail will swing over to the opposite side of her body. That's another sign that she thinks you are the bee's knees.

If a cow is standing in the doorway, next to another cow, with her head up high in the air and her ears perked as if she sees a big, large bale of fresh hay or a baby calf wondering around and there isn't a bale of hay or a calf anywhere near, well, you know you got trouble.

Such was the case early the other morning.

While Steve and I were bringing the cows down to the milking parlor, in the beauty of the early morning darkness, I noticed two cows standing in the doorway. Both of them had their ears perked, heads up and were not moving an inch. They could have been life-size cement lawn decorations.

Immediately, upon noticing this, I think I said a naughty word.

I knew something on the outside of the barn just wasn't right.

Sure enough, one of the cows had jumped through the fence lining the cow path. Cows are like a flock of blackbirds in the autumn ski. If one swoops one direction, many follow. Or a herd of wild buffalo - one cow challenged the fence, and many cows followed.

I had a funny feeling about that cow when we brought her out of the calving barn to get her into the milking barn. My head said, "You better stay down here and supervise;" my tired body said, "Forget it."

I should have supervised. My husband would remind me of that.

Approximately 35 cows were out running around the silos and the round hay bales having a right jolly old time. Geez, they act like we keep them in a prison and have finally been set free.

Other cows found the frozen corn silage in the feed bunk to be a tasty treat. Cows love to munch on silage-cicles.

(I hate to say it, but my lovely brown Jersey cows were munching away and impossible to shoosh away from the silage. They're definitely more stubborn than a black and white Holstein.)

"Oh, you idiots," Steve said, thankfully referring to the cows and not me. "Why do you have to do this on a day like today?"

Naturally, when the cows get out, there's going to be plans that run amuck.

Our dairy team meeting was scheduled for 10 a.m. Guess, I would stuff the washing machine with all the dirty clothes and put the dirty pans in the oven.

I would have to take Joey to school, because he would also be running behind on his chores. I had to stop at the grocery store to purchase milk for the coffee I was going to serve at the meeting.

Steve said he had a lot on his plate. He had to be ready for the meeting at 10. Ooh.

We herded the cows into the proper areas, which they apparently didn't like, and they shot through the fence again. This was going to make us even later. No matter how I try to tell myself that I couldn't control this event, it didn't help my attitude.

I was upset. Not angry upset; just upset.

We finished milking about a half hour later than normal. I took Joey to school, purchased the milk, and came home to pick up the house a bit. (I could barely shove that last sock into the washing machine.)

Suddenly, at 9:30, a mere half-hour before the meeting, Steve called the house.

"Now we have to pull a calf," he said.

"I'll be right there."

It was worth helping the heifer have her first baby. It's a girl, and she's so small and cute. In the end, everything worked out just fine and the meeting started on time.

Hopefully, the next time I see two cows with their ears perked up, things go as smoothly as they did this time.

For questions, or comments, e-mail me at



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