August is 4-H fair month. I ran into some new friends who have daughters in 4-H and of course that got me ruminating about my experience.
The year I turned ten, in early spring, our cow, Old Belle, gave birth to a perfect little heifer. She was mine. It was my job to train her, feed her, and clean her. In August, I would show the world just what a capable 10 year-old I was. This was no ordinary calf, she was a registered Holstein. She needed a name that would befit her lineage.
I named my first calf Tiny. That was a good name for a calf, but not so good for a grown cow, besides there was only one Tiny, and this new little wobbly legged calf was not her.
My new calf looked a lot like Old Belle: mostly black with the perfect amount of white marking across her back, up her feet and legs and under her belly. There really is such a thing as a perfect look when it comes to Holsteins. Too much white is bad, no white is bad too.
Old Belle never even saw my calf’s father. That’s because Dr. Friese came over with his little frozen vial, and that’s how Belle got pregnant. Dr. Friese came to the door and asked for a tea-cup of hot water. That’s how I knew a cow was gonna be pregnant pretty soon. I had to stay in the house, I never got to watch, just like when the pigs got castrated.
Cows never worry about love or marriage, ’cause cows didn’t have souls. They were still God’s creatures, that’s for sure, but they never ate apples from that tree in the Garden of Eden, so no rules, and no sins. ‘Course there weren’t any cows in heaven either; the down side of all that freedom.
Dad was really good at picking out names; he picked out us girls names at my house, except for Mom’s of course. Any Dodo bird would know that. Dad even helped me name my doll, Jonesy-Belle, so for sure he would be a good help with this new calf of mine, the only one, besides Belle who was a genuine, registered Holstein.
Me and Dad put our heads together for days, trying to come up with just the right name. Dad helped Bonita name her calf Black Eyes; that was easy; she was mostly white with big black blotches, and big black circles around her eyes. Besides that, Dad called Bonita his Black-eyed Susan, on account of her brown-almost-black-eyes and her middle name being Sue. Bonita was too little for 4-H and Black Eyes was just a regular old Holstein calf, not a registered Holstein, like mine.
One evening, while Dad was milking Belle, he said, “I got an idea, let’s name her after someone in the Vice-President’s family.” He rested his head against Belle’s belly, and turned just enough to look at me.
“What?” I said.
That seemed like a lame-brained idea to me. Dad stood up, and picked up the stool and half-full pail of milk. That was just a part of what Old Belle had to give, but it was time for her baby to get her fill, so I let my calf go to her Mama. Old Belle threw her head back in the stanchion and nuzzled her daughter to make sure she was okay, and still smelling just right. I knew she smell as sweet as could be, ’cause I already had my nose right down in her neck right before I let her go to Old Belle.
“Yeah, there’s Lynda Bird, and Lucie Bird, his daughters, and his wife’s name is Lady Bird,” he said. “Those seem like fine names for a heifer.”
Dad kept his head low, like he didn’t care at all, hitched up his leg before he headed over to the cat dish with some nice warm milk for them. The milk was still blue-milk, so we couldn’t drink any yet. The cats loved blue-milk.
“That’s it,” I said. “Ladybird. Her name is Ladybird.”
I knew as soon as I heard it, that was the right name for such a fine heifer. Old Belle swished her head back again and sprayed some of her spit all over my arm. She loved spraying spit up against her back to get the flies off. It wasn’t her fault I was in the way of that. Still and all, I never appreciated that habit of hers, it was pretty yucky, kinda like when men spit just to impress each other, only Old Belle had a good reason; she had to get the flies off her back. Dad spit sometimes, but only when other men were around; that’s when he swore, too.
Mom took me to the grain elevator to pick out a curry comb and brush and a halter, so I could keep Ladybird groomed and teach her to walk proper. Ladybird was a wonderful friend. She started to look forward to seeing me out in the barn; I could tell, ’cause she reached her neck right out to me, and sucked on my fingers, even after she learned to drink from a pail. She loved her neck scratched. I laid next to her in her pen, and curl right where she curved her back legs around her front ones. She smelled so good and clean, just like any baby.
With babies there’s always some dirty work to do, like cleaning out the manure and putting fresh straw in for Ladybird to lay down on. For certain, that’s what made her smell so good. That and keeping her brushed and giving her baths, but there was a bit more to it than most people guessed: I cleaned her hooves with a scrub brush, and painted her hoofs with clear fingernail polish to make the shine, and I braided her tail, then brushed it out all fluffy and full. If she got any yellow on her white parts from laying down in a dirty spot, I dusted the yellow with baby powder, so she was white as snow in those parts again.
Cows are pretty smart, but not as organized as pigs; pigs set up their own bathroom and bedroom and eating room. Cows are more like the nomads I learned about in school, just wandering around, eating what’s good, and moving on; unless, of course, they’re trained. Cows are easy to train; pigs, not on your life, they like to think for themselves.
Every day I walked Ladybird with the halter. When I got to the 4-H show there was two ways she would be judged: Constitution and Showmanship. Constitution is the way she was made, that was easy for Ladybird, ’cause she had the best parents possible. Besides, there was nothing I could do about that part. Showmanship was up to her and me; I had to train Ladybird for that
part. She had to behave herself in the show-ring, and when it was time to stop, she had to stand just right: front feet together, inside back leg stretched out behind the outside back leg; that’s so the judge could see her udder properly. Ladybird didn’t have an udder for two whole years, ’cause she was just a baby, but she knew how to stand just perfect.
On show day, I wore all white pants and white, long-sleeved shirt. Everybody that had a dairy cow did. I had way more trouble keeping myself clean than keeping Ladybird clean. I was a regular dirt magnet, for some reason, dirt just seemed to find me. Deanna, always looked perfect; dirt never got on her. Heck, her hair never even got messed up.
Later, when I got to be a teenager, I learned to judge dairy cows. It is truly like a beauty contest. Points are given for the markings, the cleanliness, the shape and size of the udder, the length of the legs, how properly the cow stands, and even how the veins run across the udder. Practically the only difference between the Miss America contest and dairy cow judging is nobody asks a cow any of those crazy questions that have no correct answer. Cows have lots of time to ruminate, so perhaps if they could talk, they might give us the low-down on peace and harmony. I suppose, if we paid attention, we could learn a lot about relaxing and letting go of worries from one of God’s “lowlier” creatures.
- Great Yorkshire Show – Dairy report (calvertslivestocklowdown.wordpress.com)
- Cow Tales from the Dairy Farm: Why I’m not a Jersey Fan (farmtek.wordpress.com)
- Lessons on Cattle (prairiemoonquilts.wordpress.com)
- Cry-Baby Me (oncealittlegirl.com)
- The ‘Cow Whisperer’ (lifewithfarmboy.wordpress.com)
- Insects and spiders that have mastered the art of disguise – Nghệ thuật ngụy trang của côn trùng và loài nhện (thaiphong.wordpress.com)