Once upon a time, there was a cow named Wanda. A spotted cow, Wanda was one of the most beautiful cows in the land (at least the land on our farm). She was a sharp, well-balanced cow, with a moderate frame, a lot of power, and excellent production.
We only had one problem with Wanda: she liked to hide her calves after they were born.
When Wanda calved for the first time on our farm up north, she hid her calf so well in a stand of diamond willow that we searched for two days without finding it. We only found it after we secretly followed her out to the calf that night after milking. We named that heifer calf Wander.
Wanda came along with the rest of the herd when we moved to Stearns County. While we were working as herdsmen at Fred's Farm, we were given the liberty to use any bull in the tank to breed our cows. Glen usually chose conservatively priced bulls for our cows, but when Wanda showed a good heat that winter, Glen picked the best bull in the tank. Wanda settled and Glen kept his excitement in check for the next eight months while we waited to see if Wanda would deliver a heifer or a bull.
I can still remember the day Wanda calved. It was a sunny, mid-September day. We had moved to our farm right before we dried Wanda off. We were unloading feed in the cow yard when Wanda and the rest of the dry cows came up to the stock tank. It looked like Wanda had calved. After we finished unloading feed, Glen hurried out to the dry cow pasture to get the calf. He didn't find one. We brought Wanda in the barn to make sure she really had calved. She had, so I went out to the pasture to look for the calf.
After searching the pasture again, I found Wanda's calf curled up in the corn field adjacent to the pasture, about six rows in. And I knew, instantly, that Glen would adore this calf even more than he adored Wanda.
The little calf, hiding in the corn, was, most importantly, a heifer. A heifer calf out of one of Glen's favorite cows, sired by the bull with the best TPI (Total Performance Index) rating in the breed. And, even better, this little progeny made in heaven was white. Only a handful of tiny black spots speckled her snow white hide.
Glen has a thing for white cows, but, at that point, we didn't have any in our herd. The cows we bought from my dad were mostly black (and most of their offspring still are, too).
The little white calf, who we named Willow, was only a few days old when Glen first referred to her as his white unicorn. I asked him why, and he said because she was like a mythical creature that normally only existed in fairy tales.
Willow really was something of a mystery. We had such high expectations of what she would become, but Willow turned out to be a marshmallow. We kept watching her as a heifer, thinking she would grow out of her adolescent roundness, but she never has. She's in her fourth lactation now and, I guess, she's really not as unattractive as we think she is, and she milks well, but she's certainly not the beauty her mother was.
So when it came time to breed Willow back this time, Glen used our last straw of a bull he really likes. He picked this bull as a young sire and then watched him become a well-known proven bull. He's a bull that could capitalize on Willow's strength but give her a little more style and pull her mammary system back up where it belongs.
Willow settled, like she always does. (She definitely inherited her sire's health and fertility traits.) But unlike the eight month wait we had to see what Wanda would deliver, we already know that Willow's calf will be a bull. We have our vet gender check most of our cows after they have been confirmed pregnant.
During milking the night after our last vet check, when we found out Willow's calf was a bull, Glen said, "Well, there went my chance for another unicorn."
He was bummed, but we've come to understand that breeding dairy cattle takes patience. Not every calf turns into the cow you think she should be. Half of the time, you get a bull when you really wanted a heifer.
Maybe Willow's health and fitness traits will carry her through another lactation and Glen will have another chance at a unicorn.