Friday, April 30, 2010

When nature wins

I've had a nightmare of a day.

It started early this morning when I heard Matilda, our Jersey cow, bellowing. She didn't stop either. "What's the matter, she lose her calf?" I kept asking, but the calf was always within easy sight.

The problem became abundantly clear when we saw Gimli, our bull, who should NOT be on this side of the fence. But he was. (Fences, take note, are largely decorative.) And Gimli was dancing such close attendance on Matilda that it was clear our dear girl was in heat.

Unlike the subtle heat cycles of our Dexters, when a Jersey's in heat you know it. They bellow fit to kill. And in such a state, Gimli thought Matilda was the sexiest thing this side of...well, the fence.

But it's the wrong time of year for her to breed. A cow's gestation is 9 months, 10 days. That would put the birth squarely in the middle of next February. We got lucky this year with Pearly's birth because we've had a mild winter, but undoubtedly we won't be so lucky again.

So we had to keep them apart. Ha. Correction -- **I** had to keep them apart, because Don had to be away for the day. Double ha.

To make things more exciting, our ten-month-old bull calf Beefy suddenly "discovered girls." Beefy is a short-legged Dexter which puts him about the same size as Pearly right now, though he is, of course...well, beefier. The size difference between he and Matilda is laughable - but he wasn't about to let a little thing like logistics stop him.

Normally Gimli is very tolerant of Beefy. In fact, the two are best buds. But not when there's a sexy hot cow in the area! And for some reason, Matilda was showing a distinct preference for Beefy. Oh joy.

I started by pulling Matilda into her milking stall and slamming the door shut against Gimli's eager escort. He bellowed and paced and went into the barn adjacent to her stall. Hey bingo, problem solved! I locked him in and milked Matilda. Make a note: cows don't give a lot of milk during their heat cycles. I came away with barely a pint, then let Matilda out.

Well, Gimli's confinement lasted a couple hours until he found he could force aside a weak part in the barn wall and get into the woods again. Soon he had hopped the fence and was back with his lady love.

Okay, so I locked Matilda into her milking stall again, this time for much of the day. This worked, but it left a bull on the loose who wasn't about to cooperate and go meekly back into the wooded side of the fence.

The complications with Beefy, however young and small he is, were such that in frustration I called Potlatch Pack (the local mobile butchering service) and made a date on May 10 to put Beefy in the freezer. Can't have TWO bulls around the place.

The neighbor kids wanted to come over, so I told them I'd meet them at the fence and escort them into the house, which I did. Later the girls wanted to go over to the boys' house, so again I escorted everyone to the fence and ordered the girls to call me before they came home. Can't take chances with a horny bull.

By mid-afternoon, I had a splitting headache, compounded by the constant bellowing between Gimli and Matilda, with a few bleats thrown in by Beefy and Pearly. I needed to clean Matilda's stall and get her some fresh water and food, but couldn't do it with Gimli in constant attendance. So I pulled Matilda into the barn adjacent to her stall and let Gimli sniff her over the boards from the hay side.

Big mistake. I thought he was going to jump (climb?) over the five-foot-high boards to get at her. Hastily I pulled Matilda back into her dirty stall and let Gimli into the barn and locked him there. I knew I didn't have long before he escaped, but at least I could release Matilda long enough to clean her stall. Musical cows, anyone?

And oh my, wasn't Beefy pleased about this arrangement! Here's this sexy thing all to himself, without Gimli chasing him off! He was on her hammer and tongs - as I said, the size difference is laughable, but I'll give him credit for trying.

Meanwhile with Gimli bellowing his sexual frustration in my ear and huffing at the loose part of the barn wall, I hastily cleaned Matilda's stall. Soon I heard the crashing noise that indicated Gimli was out of the barn into the woods, and knew I had about two minutes to get Matilda back into her stall before Lover Boy came dashing over the fence. (Remember, fences are merely decorative - especially when hormones are concerned.) I didn't have food or water in the stall yet, but at least the floor was clean.

So I grabbed a lead rope, ran over to Matilda (who wasn't pleased to see me) and clipped it to her halter. And then I pulled and dragged and tugged and dragged some more because hey, she didn't want to give up the attentions of Beefy (who, believe me, was mounting with great enthusiasm) without a fight. I was able to finally get her into her stall and chase Beefy out just as Gimli came pounding up.

Slamming doors left and right and grabbing the pitchfork in defense while Gimli paced outside her door and bellowed, I did the kids' barn chores - filling the water tank and feeding and watering the chickens - because I didn't want them out with Gimli. It's not that he was out to "get" anyone - Dexter bulls are actually quite sweet-tempered - but we can't forget he's still a bull and is therefore unpredictable, especially in his sexually-charged state.

By this time Younger Daughter was ready to come home, so I met her at the neighbor's fence with a pitchfork and escorted her to the house. I also told the dogs they weren't getting a walk that night.

I was exhausted and the headache was worse, so I finally called my husband and said, "How do you feel about just letting Gimli have his way with Matilda and giving her a shot of Lutalyse later on?" Lutalyse is an abortant and we sometimes use it to abort an ill-timed pregnancy in our cows.

He agreed this was the most prudent course of action, and with no small amount of relief (for ALL parties concerned) I let Matilda out of her stall and let the boys have her.

We REALLY need to build a bull pen.

What's that you say about living the "simple" life? Okay, quit laughing.

Beefy thinks it's worth a shot.

Gimli disagrees and chases him off.

Ah, sweet hormones!

Notice Beefy (nuzzling Matilda) isn't a whole lot bigger than Pearly (red calf on left).

Beefy hasn't quite caught on yet...

...which doesn't keep Matilda from showing her preference.

But at least Gimli knows which end is which.


  1. It's posts like this that make me want to live in the country. . . but not on the farm. :-)

  2. LOL! I got a really good laugh out of this one--so glad you took pictures!

  3. Hee Hee Haw Haw! Been There! I like your description of fences. My cows consider them suggestions. Barns are a little more like a maze, but straight through is the simplest path!

  4. Mental note: Don't get cows.

  5. Hilarious. We can totally relate. Our Dexter Bull can leap fences in a single bound if properly motivated. Who knew?

    I wanted to say a BIG THANK YOU for all the wonderful cheese recipes and instructions! So helpful!! I've spend the last week playing midwife to goats, or I would have thanked you sooner. :)

  6. That's funny, now, didn't used to be when I had short legged bull calves that should have been cut a year earlier,... if'n I had the equipment and a proper corral to catch them in. Oh, don't worry, as long as the cow doesn't lay down the short legged bull calves will never reach her.

    I knew I would always be too small of an operator to ever afford more than a few panels, so I would catch the bull calves when little and used the rubber band treatment.

    What memories!

  7. Just read this post. I know its years after the fact, but gotta mention that I LOVE your comment, "Fences are merely decorative."
    Oh so true! just recently I allowed a Dexter bull from one friend and 2 Dexter cows from another friend to be brought to my farm for breeding. I have one of those nice "secure" metal pipe round pens made from heavy duty portable cattle panel. My own cows (including a young heifer now coming into heat) were in their pasture about 100 yards away - plenty of distance, right? Well the "bull pen" was plenty strong and high enough, except that darn bull went under it - yep. Dragged a 15 panel circle into a misshapened oval several feet until it finally slid off his back to contain the 2 cows that were once his fellow prisoners. I will not bother to describe the additional "decorative fencing" that was "re-decorated" after that - I am sure you can easily picture it.
    So thankful for Lutayse shots!

    1. A few years ago we built a sturdy bull pen that has worked beautifully, except once:

      We're without a bull at the moment, but we didn't get rid of a bull calf quick enough so all our girls are pregnant and due at a bad time of year -- mid-January through mid-February -- so we're making contingency plans to house them in various barn stalls lest the babies freeze. Whee.

      - Patrice