Annual meeting season for the cooperatives we belong to is in full swing. So is financial analysis season on our farms. That means there are lots of evaluation measures floating around: debt to equity, return on investment, net farm income, and others.
    We also just tested milk, so we’ve got a new batch of performance indicators for our cows: income over feed cost, production index, fat corrected milk, etc.
    (Speaking of FCM, could somebody add cheese yield to our DHIA reports? Fat corrected milk is no longer sufficient; we need to consider protein production as well as fat production).
    This week, I’ve been thinking that we need to add a new performance indicator for certain cows: income over trouble.
    Every time I walk into the barn, I look at Lauren and shake my head.
    Lauren has a behavior problem. She constantly runs her drinking cup over. The drinking cups in our barn face into the stalls, so both her stall and her neighbor’s stall are continuously washed free of the chopped straw and shavings we bed our cows with morning and night.
    Even more frustrating, all that water runs into the gutter. Water-filled gutters make for wet tails, which make for very unhappy dairy farmers.
    Lauren’s income over trouble score is pretty high, at least by my calculation. However, my calculation might weight emotion a little higher than Glen’s calculation. He tends to balance emotion with logic and economics better than I do.
    In other words, if it was solely my decision, Lauren would find a new career. But she produces a fair amount of high quality milk, and she’s due to calve again this summer.
    Income over trouble could help us determine how Lauren’s production compares to the amount of water and bedding she wastes – and the level of irritation she induces in her farmers (well, at least one of them).
    Like Lauren, Sissy has a behavior problem. But Sissy’s problem is altogether different.
    Sissy has become a bully.
    In the beginning, I thought Sissy’s behavior was just a personality issue between the two of us. Certain cows like me more than Glen; others like Glen and don’t like me. Sissy falls into the latter category.
    The first time she acted aggressively toward me, I didn’t even recognize the behavior. Sissy and I were out in the cow yard together, she walked up and started rubbing her head up against me. I honestly thought she was just being affectionate. Sissy’s mother, Shine, was one of Dan’s show calves, and she loves having her head and neck scratched, even when she’s out in the pasture or cow yard.
    The next time Sissy came for a rub, she started to push me backwards. Affection immediately turned to alarm. I quickly backed away and scrambled over the closest fence.
    I told Glen about Sissy’s behavior, and he couldn’t believe it. Sissy acts like a puppy dog around him.
    But then, Sissy started deliberately coming after me more and more often, with her head lowered and at a rather aggressive pace. Thankfully, she’s never actually charged. But as soon as she looked my way, I’d skeedaddle.
    One day, I wasn’t paying attention. I turned around and Sissy was right there. I jumped into the feeder wagon to get away from her and Glen had to come chase her away so I could get out.
    In hindsight, we should have sold Sissy then. It’s challenging, though, to decide what’s economical, what’s practical, and what’s an emotional reaction.
    It was still only me that Sissy was aggressive with. And, she was already bred back. Plus, she has some of the best genetics for butterfat and protein yield in our herd. Her daughter, Spring, is currently our record holder for solids production.
    Our solution, then, was that I simply wouldn’t go into the cow yard to get cows. We also warned the kids about Sissy. (Misty, a cow we used to have, didn’t like kids, so our kids are well aware that not all cows are harmless).
    But last week, just before she calved, Sissy went after Glen’s dad and our relief milker in the same day while they were working in the dry cow yard.
    Now, Sissy’s income over trouble score is as negative as a score can get.
    Sissy will be sold as soon as it is practical. For now, she is confined to a stall and has a red T (for trouble) marked on her forehead so everyone remembers to stay clear.
    Gutter-flooders like Lauren might be annoying and irritating, but bully cows like Sissy are dangerous. Aggressive behavior is never acceptable. Farmer (and employee and farmkid) wellbeing is always more important than a cow’s solids production, income potential, or any other merit.
    Sadie and her husband, Glen, milk 100 cows near Melrose, Minn. They have three children – Dan, 11, Monika, 8, and Daphne, 5. Sadie also writes a blog at www.dairygoodlife.com. She can be reached at sadiefrericks@gmail.com.