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Cow math
Sadie Frericks
, Staff Writer/Columnist
Monday, October 27, 2014 8:43 AM
We're almost two months into the new school year now. And even though I've had a child in school for a couple years now, I am still amazed by how much and how fast kids learn. Monika's Kindergarten class is already doing addition and subtraction. Dan's class is working on doubledigit addition. He started doing basic algebra problems last year in first grade; I can't even imagine what kind of math he'll be doing by the end of second grade.
What I do know is that farms are good places for kids to practice their math skills.
We have numbers above each stall in the barn. Our cows don't have assigned stalls, so the numbers don't correspond to any specific cow. But they help us in other ways; for example, we might say something like the drinking cup by stall 44 is leaking. The kids use those stall numbers to practice reading numbers.
When we collect the eggs from the nest boxes, Monika counts each one as she places it into the pail. We use eggs for addition and subtraction word problems, too: If you have ten eggs and you break three, how many eggs do you have left?
Farms are good places for big people to keep their math skills sharp, too. I think my high school math teacher would smile if he knew how often I set up conversion equations. I use them for everything from measuring milk replacer to calculating dosages.
I also do word problems ¬ cow math word problems. They look something like this: If we're milking 79 cows today, and there are 60 stalls in the barn, but six of them are empty, and there are 17 cows in the switch pen, how many cows didn't come in from the pasture?
If the answer is greater than one, then I go looking for tardy cows that are usually resting in one of the far corners of the pasture.
But if the answer comes out to only one cow missing, then we recount the empty stalls and recount the switch cows. One missing cow is usually a counting error, which happens because two people can count the same pen of switch cows three times each and get six different numbers.
This kind of cow math happens daily now that fall is here. With the pastures drying up, most of the cows come in from the pasture on their own. Some days they all come back, some days they don't. (In the summer, when the pasture is green, all of the cows have to be brought back to the barn.) Even if it looks like all of the cows are in the yard, we count to doublecheck before we start milking, because it's a major inconvenience to only realize we're three cows short after we've switched and already let half the barn back outside.
These cow math problems look easy on paper, but they're never that easy in my head. I am more of a word girl than a number girl.
Then, there are busy weeks when six cows calve and two are dried up and I can't remember how many cows we were milking at the beginning of the week. So I have to pull up the report from our last DHIA test day and do the math on paper. Math is always easier when I can see it on paper.
Maybe I struggle because our cow math now is so much different from the types of cow math I've done in the past.
When I was a kid, we milked our cows in a 17stall barn. We did cow math in terms of shifts. I knew the multiples of 17 better than anyone in my class.
When Glen and I started farming on our own, we milked in a double4 parlor. On the dark mornings when we weren't sure if we had found all the cows or not, we knew that if the last group through the parlor had 3 cows (or whatever the number happened to be at the time) then everyone had been milked.
Before we started switching cows, cow math was even easier. If the barn was full, nobody was missing. If there were empty stalls, simple subtraction solved the problem.
I was talking with a salesman at World Dairy Expo this year about a new animal management system. One of the optional features of the system was called something like Find My Cow. The salesman was right, with 70some cows in one group, we really don't need a way to figure out which cow is missing and which pen she's in. Most of the time, when only one cow actually is tardy, we know exactly who it is and where she is  in the pasture.
What I could use, though, is a feature called Count My Cows.
At least until Dan and Monika get old enough to do the cow math for me.
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