A while back, I ran into a dairy’s nutritionist as I finished palpating cows. I had done quite a few exams, so I was covered with cow manure. This prompted a discussion about the quality of the manure on the dairy. I was concerned the cows were too loose. He was concerned the cows were less efficient than desired, and was on his way to examine cows and their manure. I explained that the manure was sometimes bubbly, had a granular feel to it on my sleeve and often had significantly large pieces of undigested forage. He listened attentively and began to talk about the proper depth of a cow patty, and how good quality manure sounds when it hits the floor, more of a popping sound than a continuous running sound. We probably talked for 20 minutes. Back in the car, it struck me that most normal people could not, and would not, talk about the intricacies of cow manure for that long. But cow nerds can, and we do.
    It is OK to be a cow nerd. Cow nerds appreciate things in life others do not. We find pleasure in different places. Ever walk into a freestall pen and see 100% of cows lying down, eating or drinking, and then, involuntarily break into a big grin? I have. Cow nerds love to see cows doing the things we want them to do, especially lying down and chewing their cud. How about a bunch of big burly calves popping out of the hutches, eager for milk when the feeder comes by? It’s a pretty scene to cow nerds. The other day I was on a farm where calves are raised in pens of two, using two hutches. In most pens, calves tended to lie together with their buddy in one hutch. Fun to see. Cow nerds love to watch cows eat. Cows are enthusiastic eaters. When the mixer comes by, they pull themselves up from drowsiness and mosey over to the bunk, but when the mouth hits that fresh feed, they are fully awake and attack the mix. Some are a bit too enthusiastic and throw feed up and over their backs, which is frustrating but still fun to watch. How about their ability to sort? In just a few minutes, those big noses and tongues have pushed all the way to the concrete and consumed most of the tasty, small particles. They may look up at you with a look asking for more. Of course, we do not like it when they sort and do everything we can to stop it, but they are experts.
    Watching cows go to the parlor can be fun. Cow nerds know the order in which they travel is mostly the same for every milking. I was doing a milking time analysis and noticed that the first cow into the holding pen for the next group would not allow any other cows near the parlor entrance until the gate was open and she was entering. I bet she does that every milking. Most likely she is a boss cow and gets her way in most things. Sometimes cows like to kick up their heels and frolic on the way to the parlor, especially heifers. While cow nerds might find that fun to watch, there is always the feeling something bad might happen, because cow nerds know cows moving fast on wet concrete is a recipe for disaster in more than one way.
    Some cow nerds wax eloquently and profusely about the placement of the teats, the straightness of the topline, or the set of the hocks and so forth. Most of these nerds can recite entire family histories with commentary on the various qualities of all the ancestors at the same time. They knew how to do this long before genomics was a thing. When two of these types of cow nerds get together, time just plain stops. If you are waiting for one of them to do something, like go with you to get something to eat, for example, you had better forget about it and do it yourself. Maybe plan on having one extra beer with that meal too.
    Cow nerds can tell when a cow is in heat. “See how her hair is messed up?” “See how her tail head is dirty?” Normal folks stare when you say this. They are thinking, “What the heck is he talking about? She looks just like the other 100 cows in this pen.” But, we know better.
    Cow nerds know when a cow does not feel well. It is the look in her eyes, the fill of the udder, the size of her belly, the droop of the ears, the way she moves or where she is in the pen at any particular time of day. When we try to explain this to normal people, their eyes glaze over, and they start to look away uncomfortably. But, we just know.
    Cow nerds love to see a healthy newborn calf. Even after seeing thousands of the darn things, we love to see the bright eyes, the shaking heads and the hilarious first attempts to stand. We cannot get enough. Maybe it is because we know the new calf represents the future or the circle of life going around.
    Cow nerds are not smarter or more stupid than normal folks. However, we know and appreciate things they miss. It is a secret, and we know our lives are better because of it. Yes, it is more than OK to be a cow nerd.
    Bennett is one of four dairy veterinarians at Northern Valley Dairy Production Medicine Center in Plainview, Minnesota. He also consults on dairy farms in other states. He and his wife, Pam, have four children. Jim can be reached at bennettnvac@gmail.com with comments or questions.