September 5, 2017 at 3:32 p.m.

A fun herd check

By Susan Steinke- | Comments: 0 | Leave a comment

"This gal's pregnant," says Dave. Are sweeter words ever heard coming from the mouth of your local vet?
"And this gal's open," he said of the next cow. Bummer.
But then, "She's pregnant." "Alright, this one is pregnant." "And she is pregnant." "Good man, this gal is pregnant, too." Dave finally looks at my husband, Kurt, and said, "Did you suddenly find the cervix or something? You're going to put me out of business!" Nine out of eleven cows pregnant-success. Dave said to me before he leaves, "That makes for a fun herd check."
A fun herd check is an understatement. We've only done our own breeding for a little over a year. In October of 2011, our breeding service of umpteen years informed us that they were no longer going to provide service to our area. Because they served so few farms in our area, and most of their breeders had to drive so far to get to us, the company decided they were going to stop service north of Highway 55. We live on Highway 55. But, yes, our driveway is on the north side, so too bad for us. I guess the company had to draw the line somewhere, and they drew it at our driveway.
We had one month to get ourselves set up to do our own breeding. Now, this wasn't quite as dire as it might seem. Kurt and I had both been trained to breed cows. It took technicians so long to get to us that we figured we would have a better chance of catching cows in standing heat if we just bred them ourselves.
In January of 2011, I had arranged for on-the-farm training through our breeding service. Now, I can't say I was looking forward to this. I knew what breeding a cow entailed, and I wasn't so sure about my abilities. But, when Lloyd the trainer showed up on a January morning and slapped his wet, preserved reproductive tracts onto a card table in our freezing-cold milk house, I knew he was going to have no patience for my girly insecurities.
Learning to breed using preserved reproductive tracts is one thing, but standing behind a cow with a breeding glove up to your shoulder for the first time is a whole different experience. You want me to stick my what in the where and try to grab the huh? To make matters worse, I'm only 5'2", and we have some t-a-l-l cows. I can't see over the backs of some of them. Lloyd's solution: stand on a bale.
Lloyd was an excellent teacher and he forced me to learn how to breed a cow whether I liked it or not. There are two things I won't forget from that day. First, and some of you seasoned breeders might disagree with me, but breeding a cow hurts. When your arm is clamped down on for an extended period of time, it's hard to get your hand to keep functioning, much less to hold onto a slippery cervix.
Second, if Lloyd tells you to keep your hand flat while he pours liquid nitrogen over it so that he can prove to you there is nothing to be afraid of, then you'd better keep it flat. Or you'll end up with burns like I did.
Learn, we did, though. Kurt and I practiced together on our open cows. I doubt the non-farm couples we knew shared a hobby quite like ours. Even though we were now trained, I'll admit it: we were lazy. We kept calling the breeding service.
That notice in October was the impetus we needed. We bought a tank, filled it with semen, and stocked up on supplies. One of the last technicians to breed a cow for us before we officially took over was a young, college-age girl. She bred that cow in two seconds flat. Watching her, I thought, well if she can do it, I can do it. Except, I couldn't. I was seven months pregnant at the time. No bale was going to get me close enough to the rear of a cow to get her bred. So the continuation of our livelihood fell squarely on Kurt's shoulders.
And as this herd check proves, he has shouldered the burden quite well. You can't keep milking without fresh cows. So, when the going gets tough, the tough get breeding.
Susan and her husband, Kurt, milk 40 cows in Greenfield, Minn. They have two little farmhands: Lily, 4, and Tate, 1. Just two miles east of their farm, on a clear day you can see the Minneapolis skyline. Susan can be reached at [email protected].
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