It is the start of a new decade and with it comes lists of items to boost our self-improvement. My list is called lessons from Polka with compliments from a cow whose backstory follows.
    - Be likable.
    - Do your best even when under duress.
    - Be patient and calm.
    - Rise up and keep moving if you can.
    - Give yourself time to rest and recover.
    - It is OK to let someone else pull the weight.
    - Let others pamper you.
    - Take care of somebody else if you are able.
    - Do not give up hope that things will get better.
    - Show appreciation to those who are kind to you.
    Part of being a dairy farmer is to enjoy working with cattle. If you do not have some level of affection for bovines, it is probably not the career for you.
    I have been spending more time than usual milking lately, so I have had time to think about and observe our cows.
    Cows are habitual, and for the most part they like to do the same things day in and day out. There are exceptions to their routines. I have observed that disruptions to their daily habits often have to do with heats and calving. That is when they can be most unpredictable and sometimes that can mean trouble.
    My favorite cows in our herd are any of those our children or other 4-Hers have leased and shown. They are tame from being halter broken and having attended fairs where they were tied, washed, led around and generally pampered. They have names, instead of numbers, and I know them the best.
    Polka is one of my favorite cows. She was shown for a couple of years by Leif, but her shorter stature took her out of the show string. Polka is black, has straight lines and a great udder. Despite her shorter legs, she is a nice cow and can really milk. She finished her last lactation with 44,260 pounds of milk, 1,735 pounds butterfat and 1,280 pounds protein.
    She was due with her fifth calf in early December on the same day as five other cows. The weather was sub-zero with a thick layer of ice under the snow in the feed area by the dry cow bedded pack. The other cows had calved, and we were checking Polka several times a day. Every time I looked, she was standing up, looking uncomfortable and not calving. Then she started slipping, so we placed hobbles on her rear legs to prevent more trouble.
    Days passed, still no calf; we had our veterinarian check her during our morning herd check. All was fine. That night during milking she hastily marched into the parlor with the group of fresh cows before she could be stopped. She anxiously stumbled over her hobbles and fell in our parallel parlor.
    Eventually, and with a lot of barn lime applied for traction, she was able to get up and leave the area to get back to the deep bedded pack. She calved with a big, healthy beef cross bull calf the next day, one week overdue.
    Polka’s right rear leg was swollen from her parlor fall, and she was wobbly. To help ease her recovery, we put her on a separate pack. She spent several days mostly lying down and resting. She could not be milked because to go to the parlor would have elevated her risk of falling again. Her calf was moved into the calf barn with the others shortly after birth.
    Weeks have gone by. Polka is moving better but is still living on the deep bedded pack where feed and water must be delivered since she does not have access to it. Our kids who are home on college break have mostly been waiting on Polka. She has a calm demeanor and seems to relish being waited on due to her fair experience.
    We had several older cows due to beef bulls in December, so one of the black, fuzzy aggressive beef calves just born ended up nursing Polka and is taking care of our inability to milk her. They seem to both be quite content.
    Observing Polka and the calf has been fun for everyone on the farm since we have never really left calves with our cows. He races around when he is happy, sleeps well and nurses a lot. Polka seems glad to be milked and mothers the calf.
Polka often meets us at the door when we deliver feed and water, and she occasionally pushes open the gate to eat at the bunk a few yards away. She is much better.
    Despite her trials, Polka has reminded us of a few things that are good for humans to remember (see list at the start).
    Jean dairy farms with her husband, Rolf, and brother-in-law, Mike, and children Emily, Matthias and Leif. They farm near St. Peter, in Norseland, where she is still trying to fit in with the Norwegians and Swedes. They milk 200 cows and farm 650 acres. She can be reached at jeanannexstad@gmail.com.