All dairy farmers sell off their poorer cows so they can replace those poor cows with younger, better cows. We all have culling criteria that usually starts with milk production levels below a certain threshold that creates an unprofitable cow. A non-pregnant cow milking below 60 pounds a day might be an example of a potential cull cow. A pregnant cow in late lactation and due to calve again in 90 days or less can be down to 40-50 pounds a day of milk, and she is perfectly safe from getting a trailer ride to hamburger heaven.
    There are multiple reasons cows leave the herd. When Eddie and I milk the fresh cows every morning in the fresh cow parlor, one of my priorities is to look at the older cows we move into the regular milking string. If I see a cow that will not be able to carry another calf next year because of her age and udder conformation, I code her in the computer as “do not breed.” Then, we milk her that year until she reaches our low milk threshold, and we sell her. This saves money on insemination costs and drastically lowers our involuntary death loss because older cows cannot handle that one last pregnancy.
    So, why on earth would we suddenly cull a pregnant late lactation 2 year old cow milking 74 pounds a day? She looks perfect, would probably score 83 points with the Holstein classifier, and she is easy and fast milking in the parlor. She does not threaten the workers’ or other cows’ safety and does not lap water all day at the water fountain.
    Joe, Bry and I all agreed she had to go, and we did not even know which cow she was right away. It was like a 48 hour mystery television show that goes on forever. I even offered a $100 bonus to any employee who could positively identify her with an accompanying video that would prove her devious actions.
    It all started in pen No. 13 about a month ago. Cows in that pen were suddenly missing one or both ear tags that they had worn since birth. They retained their small RFID tag so we could cross reference them on the computer and retag them with new large number tags. The problem was, in a day or two, those same cows would be missing both tags again, and we would find the tags laying on the concrete by the water crossovers. None of the innocent cows were losing their yellow, high priced button tags or had their ears ripped open at all. They just had the small empty hole of a normal ear piercing. We knew one devious cow was doing this to the other cows, but we did not know who or how.
    For anyone reading this not familiar with cow anatomy, cows only have teeth on the bottom with hard gums on top. I can stick my hand into a cow’s mouth and she may bite down, and it will hurt a bit, but my fingers will come out intact. So, for a cow to bite off another cow’s tag in a matter of minutes was hard to fathom.
    As part of normal sorting of pens, a few weeks ago, 20 cows were moved from pen No. 13 to pen No. 4. Pen No. 4 is a super pen, holding 240 cows instead of the normal 120 cows. As our luck would have it, the perpetrator happened to be one of the 20 moved. We figured this out in a day because suddenly we were losing tags in pen No. 4 instead of pen No. 13. We were retagging up to 25 cows per day, and nobody could catch the evil perpetrator. Every day, the words describing that cow got worse and worse, and evil is the worst word I can use in print. I walked the pen personally many times, and all the employees wanted to catch her doing the dirty deed so they could collect the $100 bounty. We knew she was one of the 20 cows we moved, and we also knew she probably had both her original factory printed tags in her ears because she obviously could not chew off her own tags.
    Finally, Guillermo, our breeder, caught her on video chewing on another cow’s tag. We were not absolutely positive, but we put her in with five other cows in our cull pen anyway. Within 5 minutes of no one around watching, she had removed a tag from another one of those five cows in that pen. Needless to say, she was loaded on the trailer and sent to Iowa. Now some might say we did the wrong thing, and we should have given her a special pen by herself. By that time, the only special pen I would consider would have been solitary confinement in the dungeon of San Quentin penitentiary.
    Vander Kooi operates a 1,800-cow, 4,500 acre farm with his son, Joe, and daughter-in-law, Rita, near Worthington, Minn. Send him feedback at Follow him on Instagram, @davevanderkooi.