My favorite segment of the evening news is the "Good Question" bit in which Jason DeRusha answers viewers' questions about miscellaneous topics. First, the segment is usually upbeat and interesting. Second, it satisfies my unquenchable thirst for knowledge - trivial or not.
Since several readers have posed questions about material in my columns and blog entries, I decided that this issue's column would answer one of the most common questions.
Q: Do all of your cows really have names? How do you name them?
A: All but three of our cows have names.
#230, #240 and #945 are cows we bought shortly after we started who we've never named. We almost didn't name a heifer we bought from our neighbors - #250 - just because we thought it would be cool to have a #230, #240 and #250, but we ended up naming her Hillary during our presidents' wives' names campaign.
The rest of the nameless cows and heifers we bought when we started were given names that fit their behavior: Snickers, because she was persnickety; Pigeon, because when we dried her up and put her out with the dry cows she kept jumping over the fence and coming back to the milking herd like a homing pigeon; Rosie, because she was the nosiest heifer in the group.
For the couple weeks they're here, bull calves go by George or Rufus. Occasionally they get other names. Our Jersey-cross steer is named Hershey. Dan named the twin bull calves born last weekend Jack and Barney, after his uncle's team of horses.
Every heifer calf is named when she is born. Her name usually starts with the same letter as her mother's name, which helps us remember which family she belongs to. Other than that, our naming strategies vary. The only rule we have is that names we have in mind for our children, and anything that sounds close to those names, can't be given to calves.
Some heifer calves' names are symbolic of the events in our lives at the time she was born. For example, our very first heifer calf was named Uno. Just after Glen's parents returned from their trip to Hawaii, we named heifer calves Maui and Coconut. Drizzle was born on a damp, November day. Cinco was born on May 5 (Cinco de Mayo).
Other calves' names are inspired by their mothers' or sisters' names. Snickers' first calf, a Brown Swiss-cross, was named Peanut; Peanut's first calf was named Skippy. Danara has two daughters - Diamond and Dazzle. Glitter's daughter is Glimmer. Clover's calf was named Kura. Chip's daughter is Cracker. Six's calf was named Seis. My 4-H dairy judging coach and her husband had some of the most creative cow names when we were judging there. The one family I still remember had a Spellcheck, Typo, White-out and Inkblot.
Twin heifer calves are always given special names. Our first set was named Hope and Pray. Their twin sisters were named Patience and Faith. We also have Laugh and Love and Chance and Charm.
Dan's favorite characters have inspired names, too - Dora, Dori (from "Finding Nemo") and Willa (from "Willa's Wild Life"). I suspect that we'll have a Pippi, after Pippi Longstocking, as soon as one of our P cows has a heifer calf.
We often find ourselves with a naming theme. We had a string of spice names last summer and ended up with Vanilla, Basil, Ginger and Galena (after Penzey's Galena Street blend). Last December's heifer calves were named Holly, Charity, Jingle, Frosty, Mistletoe, Dolly and Dove. (Dolly was originally named Dasher, but Glen saw the name on the calendar and requested it be changed to something that didn't mean "quick sprinter". Since it seems like heifers tend to grow into their names, I obliged and changed her name to something more docile. Funny he didn't object the year before when I named two of December's heifer calves Dancer and Prancer.)
I do believe that heifers somehow grow into their names. We had a heifer out of a very polite cow family that my sister named Xena Warrior Princess. My dad nicknamed her Firecracker after she calved. When Hopscotch - re-named for the way she kicked with both hind feet at once as a first-calf heifer (she still tosses her head around when we tie her up) - had her second heifer calf, Glen named the calf Harmony. Guess which heifer comes up and starts rubbing on you when you walk into the pen? Interestingly, Glen named our first heifer calf of 2010 Chaos. (I think he was feeling a little stressed the day she was born.) She's only a couple months old but already she's growing into her name.
More recently, the calf's sire has been the inspiration for the name. Lollie's Pontiac calf was named Le Mans. Molly's Banana calf was named Monkey. #240's Toystory heifer is Lou-Lou. Malibu's Baccardi heifer was almost named Morgan, but we changed it to Misty. Emma is a Morty out of our Elsie cow.
We never seem to run out of names, which is usually the next question people ask after we confirm that every cow has a name. Sometimes it takes us a couple days to settle on the most fitting name, but we always come up with something.
Do you name your cows? How do you come up with names? Send an email to the Dairy Star (mark.k@dairystar.com) and your letter will be published in the next issue.
Sadie and her husband, Glen, milk 70 cows near Melrose, Minn. They have two children - Dan, 3, and Monika, 1. When she's not parenting or farming, she's writing for the Dairy Star. Sadie can be reached at gsfrericks@meltel.net.