It may sound odd, but I’ve never met a cow in person before (or bull, or bullock – but I’m gonna call them all cows for the sake of brevity most of the time, sorry).
When I was a teenager in Florida, I had a country-gal friend who had a very tame bull. I did meet him once, with a fence in between us.
Until I moved to Ireland, I never got that close to cows again. They just weren’t common in the places I lived.
So I was thrilled to get an invitation to visit a breeding farm last Friday. I went up after work, in my already-grubby work gear. It wouldn’t matter a bit if I stepped in, or sat in, anything that came out of a cow. After 6:30 at night it was dark and windy and cold and the rain was coming down sideways… but none of that mattered as my friend takes excellent care of his bovine buddies and had them all safe inside the barn, warm(ish), out of the wind and drying off.
First I met the three babies. The white one (male) is about a month old, the two girls are about 7 weeks old.
Bizz is my friend’s favourite at the moment, and the one he really wanted me to meet. Little guy had been poorly a few nights previous, and my friend had spent two nights with him under a heat lamp with classical music playing, warm and calm. It worked, as you can see.
Can you see Bizz’s little tongue? Something I never expected: when you scratch him just right, he starts licking. Rather like when you get the sweet spot on a dog’s belly and the back leg starts to go, or even closer to how some cats get all ‘licky’ when you scratch their back at base of their tail.
So was the bull, Murty. See him there with the ring in his nose? The big brown gal on the left, Trumpet, was pretty aggressive – I wouldn’t want to meet her without the steel gates in between us! She was the only one in the whole barn that acted as if she wanted to gore me with her (removed at one month or so old) horns. Seriously, she has to be tranq-darted by the vet before he’ll touch her, she’s that bad. She likely won’t be bred again, she’s too dangerous and a bad influence on the babies.
We went around to the other side of the barn where the older calves were sheltering. This photo shows basically what it felt like to be in there with them: a little swarm of nervous 6-month old calves, circling and shifting, head-butting each other out of the way to put a safe distance between themselves and the scary new person. None wanted to get close to me.
We stood in their pen for a while, chatting away about the other cows, and their histories, personalities, and the difficulties and day-to-day of keeping up with a breeding barn.
I have asked to be on-call for the next birth, and how exciting would that be? Who needs sleep when you have a chance to see (and help) a calf being born?
Then I felt warm breath on my ankle, and a tug at my jacket…
I quite quickly had a new favourite: the little white calf, who has a black W on his nose. I’d mostly stopped trying to get pictures by the time I decided I really liked him (I got to scritch his little neck, too), so I don’t have a good photo of him. But maybe that is for the best, as the boy calves go from the breeding farm to the next property, where they will be turned into bullocks and eventually into dinner. It is what it is, and it rather breaks my friend’s heart to send off his favourites. He’s too gentle a soul for this job, sometimes.
These cattle are a cross between charolais and limosin cattle. Maybe a few of my farming friends can enlighten me on the breed characteristics, or how the cross is meant to be? Because except for Trumpet, they were all calm and quiet, even with having the surprise of a stranger in their barn touching their babies. Murty the bull was right there in a pen with a few of the girls, not a bother to anyone, and barely glanced at me. Of course I will put a lot of their temperament down to their caretaker, who never hits or prods them, and spends all of his day (and sometimes all of his night) with them.