Friday, September 25, 2009

Barn dancers

We have an esophagus feeder, but I don't use it very much. My dislike for using it gives me a lot of patience when it comes to feeding new calves. Luckily, that patience isn't tested very often – most of our newborns take to the bottle without any coaxing on my part. Rita's bull calf, however, absolutely refused to drink. I tried every trick I knew before flying the white flag. I tend to have slightly less patience with bull calves than I do heifers, but I really did try hard to get Rita's calf to drink.

Luckily, Glen was in the milk house when I returned for the esophagus feeder. I usually defer tube feeding to him if he's around, so I handed him the feeder. While I stayed in the milk house to wash bottles, Glen kindly took care of administering colostrum to Rita's calf. Apparently, the calf didn't take too kindly to the administering – I could hear him bawling and thrashing from inside the milk house.

When Glen returned, he said, "Well, he certainly did not disappoint his ancestors."

I laughed.

Rita comes from a line of high strung, sensitive cows. We call them barn dancers. Rita's mother, Rosie, is one of the calmer ones in the family. Rosie's sister, Hopscotch, is lucky she's still around; McDonald's was mentioned more than once during her first lactation.

Hopscotch wasn't the name she was given as a calf. We renamed her after the start of her first lactation. Her udder was so sensitive and she hated the milker so much that she'd kick with both back feet at once, like a kid playing hopscotch. It took both of us to milk her – one in the pit to reattach the milker after she kicked it off and one up above to hold her tail, which reduced her kicking by about half. At the time I seriously thought someone should invent an udder-numb spray for first calf heifers like her.

We probably should have culled Hopscotch, but we had just started farming, so every cow putting milk in the tank was important enough to risk broken arms for. Plus, Hopscotch came from one of my dad's favorite cow families – the Bo Derek family. Apparently, he liked to keep life interesting; I'm guessing that maybe if they hadn't milked as well as they did, Dad wouldn't have kept them around, but he did. One of Bo Derek's granddaughters was nicknamed Pellegro (that's Spanish for danger). Most of them just lived with red Ks marked on their rumps so whoever was milking knew that they should use kickers.

Hopscotch is now about to start her fifth lactation. She's mellowed some with age. She doesn't kick quite as fast as she used to, and only with one foot at a time now. But now that we're in a tie-stall barn, we have to deal with her front end as well. She tosses her head and snorts when we tie her up or untie her.

Rita's calf and the subsequent reminiscing about Hopscotch's first lactation made us wonder: How heritable is temperament? Who has more influence, dam or sire?

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