Ballad of a first-calf heifer


I arrived at my home farm a few weeks ago; the ride wasn’t bad, but my travel mates sure did complain and wiggle around and squish me a little too much.

The driver was some young kid who actually did a great job backing us up. My new place of residence could certainly use an unloading ramp. I’m all for a good jump now and then, but a slip, slide and then — bam — onto the slippery cement. Not cool. I ran into some of my old friends in our new pen, and I’m pretty sure I saw my sister from another mister.

One day, the guy who comes with that miserably loud contraption (that I have grown to love; it brings my meals) flipped this lever, and my friends and I went up to eat and couldn’t leave. As we stood there munching away, sure enough, we discovered the reasons for our sudden capture. This lady shows up with a clipboard and two weird looking things in her hands. Then, as she speeds along, she reaches her arm next to my head and pokes me with something sharp. Not once, but twice. She was mumbling something about it being for my own good and for my baby. All I could think was, “Wait until I get out, honey, and I’ll give you something for your own good.”

In an instant, a lever was lifted, and with a head shake, we were free to go back to bed in that nice soft sand again. I had a brief moment of overwhelming glee, thinking I could hang out here for a while. I was getting the routines down. I was surrounded by some older, wiser cows and could finally get answers to my burning questions. 

I leaned over toward Nova Scotia, who appears to be quite friendly, and asked, “Are those pokes really good for me?” Some of the wise ones overheard, and all said yes, emphatically. It was awfully nice and cozy in that pen. If I played my cards just right, I could sneak into an empty stall between two of the biggest brutes and be nice and toasty warm.

One day, while we were playing follow the leader around the pen, (The older girls don’t like this, but it kept my friends and I busy while we waited for breakfast.), I heard that now-familiar bang after the machine came with our food. I was hesitant to go up to eat, figuring I might be stuck there for a while, but really, is there a better place to be stuck? I followed my stomach’s orders, and there I was: locked up. Some of the ladies and I are moving, out the gate, over that creepy creek, down a thing they call a breezeway, into another barn. The wise ones told me this would happen as my day grew closer. I’m not sure what to make of that comment.

They call this pen transition, and these guys think they are sneaky as they walk through here a million times a day. Sometimes the gates rattle and clang, and out goes one of my new friends. Where do they go? They never seem to return, and I can hear loud bellows. I’ve asked the girls my age, but they don’t seem to know. I had breakfast next to Chicago and politely asked her between bites. She said when my time comes, they will take me to the straw, and there, I will become a mother, starting my life’s work as a milk cow. It sounds like a nice experience; we shall see, though. I’ve been hearing bits and pieces of labor stories in here. They aren’t all perfectly easy.

My day has come. I woke up this morning feeling weird. Oh man, that guy is wandering around the pen again. Gates are banging. He’s coming back in here to take … me. I cooperate, focusing on the straw bedding awaiting me. Well, this is something. I have the pen to myself, and it’s nice and fluffy in here. I quickly head over and sneak a sip of water before this birthing show gets going. Then, I lay down and make a futile attempt to get comfortable. These contractions make me a bit agitated, and I can’t help but get up and down for what feels like a million times. I’m starting to wish this wasn’t my goal in life. I am considering finding the guy who did this to me and asking for a refund. Can’t I just be like Maeve? Just eat, eat, eat and never worry about this milking business. Oh, wait. I vaguely remember overhearing the wise ones whispering something about a “freezer” and “soon” for her.

OK, OK, I’ll have this baby. If those girls would get their arms out of me and quit trying to reverse nature. I must breathe. I must breathe. I must push, yet, those girls are telling me not to push. Are they nuts? I try hard not to, because the arm shoved in there is not pleasant. Then, at long last, the pushing becomes easier. The girls are elated, and frankly, so am I. They must have freed the other leg. Now I can do it. Ta-da, a nice heifer calf. Pretty good work for a young mom, if I do say so myself.

Jacqui Davison and her family milk 800 cows and farm 1,200 acres in northeastern Vernon County, Wisconsin. Her children, Ira, Dane, Henry and Cora, help on the farm while her husband, Keith, works on a grain farm. If she’s not in the barn, she’s probably in the kitchen, trailing after little ones or sharing her passion of reading with someone. Her life is best described as organized chaos, and if it wasn’t, she’d be bored.


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