Just Thinking Out Loud

Family names


Naming calves around our farm is considered a family sport. A mass email goes out to all of the kids and adopted family members for their most creative suggestions for the next generation of Ralma cows. Many options are obvious while others are from left-field, but regardless, the selection of the perfect name can be a daunting task requiring many brains.

With all of the effort and thought which goes into naming a calf, you would think an engraved name tag or necklace would be in order. Nope. Once a calf is named, it is quickly forgotten, and she is referred to by her ear tag number. For those of us that are cow blind, numbers are the only way to tell which animal you need to pull in from the lot. For some reason, the calves and heifers just don’t respond when you call them by name. Come to think of it, our dog Bailey doesn’t always come when called either. We have very independent girls around this farm.

When a heifer calves, her number is soon replaced by her given name as she stands in her stall with a barn card marking the spot. This can be a tricky time, because I have discovered I like a name too much. When the second or third Diamond or Star freshened, I realized my brain does not have the capacity to keep track of over 200 names. Therefore, I created a couple of perpetual lists, one for names in use and another list for potential names when inspiration hits.

We have used naming calves as a gateway for non-farm kids to meet a dairy calf. Before YouTube, TikTok and cell phone videos, I would lug my video camera to my shoulder and start shooting video while narrating the background story of the calves who needed names. I would send these VHS tapes in the mail to my sister in Illinois who would have her junior high literature students create names using action verbs, adjectives or literary themes to help name our calves. I don’t know who had more fun: the kids creating the names or us trying to follow their logic.

Over the years, we have come up with crazy family line names. Of course, anything with a mineral or gemstone goes back to Michael’s cow Crystal. We have been known to have “F” family or “T” family lines as well. Today, it seems that many of the registered dairymen have been watching the big horse races as some names now are a combination of several words, which leads me to our latest naming adventure.

When Mark and I were on our black ice run to Iowa a couple of weeks ago, Austin had his own heart-thumping moments on the farm. It appeared that Always had a big heifer calf just before evening milking. Austin carried the full-sized calf to the nursery barn and chased Always across the yard to the milking barn. As he was putting on the last milking unit, he noticed the cow strain. He thought it was odd but kept on milking the cow. Once the milking bucket was securely catching all the colostrum for the new calf, he stood up and spotted a potential problem. There was another set of feet sticking out from the back end of the cow.

All Austin could do was wait until she was done milking and quickly take her back to the calving barn where she pushed out another heifer calf. We had no clue she was carrying twins as she went full term with them. These were her third and fourth heifer calves in three lactations. Her oldest daughter, Anyway, calved a few weeks earlier with a heifer calf of her own. Now, the challenge was one to come up with creative names.

To catch you all up, Always is from Almost who comes from Almond who goes back to the nut family from Chestnut. Chestnut is from C-F Finley Choice whose dam is Christmas Fudge (C-F) and then finally our foundation cow Juror Faith. As you can see, we sometimes try to stay in a letter family line, but once that becomes too complicated, we break off using a different option.

 Anyway had a heifer calf we named Anyhow whose future daughter might be called Anywho — the name option is on my list. Last year, Always had a daughter named Alike. Unbeknownst to Mark, he used the same sire on Always again, so the twins are full sisters to Alike. What cute and clever names could we come up with? It was our milker, Anna, who had the winning idea: Also and Again.

Probably one of my favorite family name lines starts with Mayday who had May I then Maybee. Maybee has had two daughters: Whynot, who had Because, and I Don’t Know (IDK). These names sound like the setup to an Abbott and Costello skit. You never know where inspiration will come for the perfect calf name.

As their four children pursue dairy careers off the family farm, Natalie and Mark Schmitt started an adventure of milking registered Holsteins just because they like good cows on their farm north of Rice, Minnesota.


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