Somebody said something to my lady wife along the lines of, “Would Jim be interested in these?” I think the person was talking about horses, or sheep, or something. My lady wife looked at what was being talked about and said, “Oh no, he’s a cowman.”
So having dairy cows back is nice. Not my cows, but still, they weren’t my sheep, I’m just playing the gracious host. But it’s good to have them about the place again.
I’ve always liked working with cattle. Suckler cows are fine, calves and stirks are just like dealing with kids. They can be cute and they can be little horrors as well. But when you’re dealing with dairy cows you’re dealing with ladies far more grown up than a lot of people you’ll meet.
What I like about cows is their unabashed curiosity. Old or young they’ll still all wander across to see what’s going on. Sal rolls on the grass to freshen up and as she sits up, three cows will be sniffing her.
They’re also very accepting. We put them through a new milking parlour. (Well they’d never seen it before, or anything like it.) The first time through there was considerable hesitation, everything had to be sniffed, but then they discovered the feed and suddenly things seemed to make more sense to them. Second time through the parlour, about one in six was still a little hesitant. After a couple of days, this was all old hat and they were at home in it.
In fact after three or four days they’d worked out the new routine and had settled perfectly happily to a new home.
But what is interesting is that cows obviously do think about things. One or two worked out that if they went back the wrong way after they’d been milked, it was surprising how much feed they’d find that somebody else had missed.
Frankly this can be a pain in the proverbial because whilst they’re trying to go back, it’s against the flow. So you have cows meeting in a relatively narrow passage and there’s this clash of wills.
It’s also interesting to look at cows coping with automatic feeders. We’ve never had them, but I know people who do. The cow wears a collar with a computer chip. She goes to the feeder, the computer looks at how much concentrate feed the cow is entitled to and gives her some. The idea is that the cow eats a little and often. It’s better for her digestion. Now in late lactation she’s getting all the nutrition she needs from grass and/or silage, so she doesn’t need concentrate. So when she goes into the automatic feeder, the computer says ‘No,’ and she doesn’t get anything.
At this point cows have been known to butt the feeder. Not a major blow, more a nudge, just to wake the feeder up and remind it of its responsibilities.
Some of the early ones weren’t designed with this in mind and it was discovered that the cow could effectively ‘get round’ the computerised delivery system by just shaking the feeder so feed dropped into the trough anyway. It hadn’t taken them long for some of them to work this out, and when a cow shakes something, it is pretty comprehensively shaken.
Other cows realised that if the feeder wasn’t feeding you, it might still feed somebody else. So they would let another cow in, wait for the sound of feed falling into the trough, and then try and push the other cow out. As you can imagine, decent automatic feeders are designed to be seriously robust.
If cows have a mental failing it is that they seem to assume that if they can get their head through, the rest of their body will follow. Unfortunately they’re wedge shaped. The head goes through, the neck isn’t a problem, and then you come to the shoulders.
It has to be said that with a cow weighing over half a ton, their assumption isn’t an entirely unreasonable one. It’s surprising what does give when they start casually trying to squeeze through.
Not much about cows, but still, it has a really superior dog in charge
as one reviewer said
“This is a selection of anecdotes about life as a farmer in Cumbria. The writer grew up on his farm, and generations of his family before him farmed the land. You develop a real feeling for the land you are hefted to and this comes across in these stories. We hear of the cattle, the sheep, his succession of working dogs, the weather and the neighbours, in an amusing and chatty style as the snippets of Jim Webster’s countryman’s wisdom fall gently. I love this collection.”