Sunday, March 16, 2014

Can't tell the difference!

I can identify and name all sixteen of our cattle without any effort. They are:

Samson, our bull
Ruby and her calf Alice
Jet and her calf Tarter
Raven and her calf Chester
Polly and her calf Petunia
Matilda and her calf Amy
Victoria and her calf Rosy
Sparky and her calf Dusty

Well, with the last two -- Sparky and Shadow -- I have some trouble because the two of them are almost the same age and virtually identical. They only time I'm absolutely certain who is who is when I see Dusty nursing.

This is Shadow.

This is Sparky.

Normally this isn't a big deal except for one thing: Shadow is due any day now with our first calf of the season. We especially want to keep an eye on Shadow because her calf died last year, the first calf death we've had in fifteen years of raising cattle.

We like to scoot our expectant cows into the corral just before giving birth. We're not always successful, but that's the ideal situation. This way the mothers aren't tucking themselves down into the woods and having their calves in bad weather or subject to predators. But right now it's mud season and our corral is deep in muck.

For purposes of reference, here's my boot, six inches deep.

Can't have a poor calf born in that or it would get stuck.

So our plan is to tuck Shadow into the barn (where Matilda and Amy normally spend the night) and just leave her there for a week or so until she has her calf. But first -- we have to figure out who is Shadow and who is Sparky.

So I went out today and compared the two. Back and forth. I compared and contrasted. Front side and backside.

You might think a cow who is nine months' pregnant wouldn't be hard to identify, but I can assure you it's tough. (In the above photo, Shadow is on the right.) I mean honestly, these ladies could be twins. (They're not.)

After a great deal of looking at both of them, I discovered one minor difference: Shadow has some white hairs scattered across the bridge of her nose.

So when the opportunity arises to tuck Shadow into the barn, be sure we'll be looking for white hairs. And let's hope Sparky doesn't sprout a few in the meantime.


  1. I got my first Dexters in January, Patrice ...a six year old cow with her then 3 month old heifer calf and a supposedly three year old dun cow. I got a bull too, but my farrier is keeping him for me for now. Both of the cows are supposedly bred. The six year old looks it, but the little dun cow is well ...very little. Hard to tell.

    Ask me anything about breeding/raising horses but what I know about breeding/raising cows would fit in a thimble. Sure hope my first experience with calving goes well.


  2. You could give one of them a quick squirt with spray paint on the backside! Then you'd know for sure. =) I can imagine how hard it can be to tell them apart though!

  3. Just put a number ear tag in their ears and it should get easier.

  4. Slapping a little water based paint on the butt of one of them would solve your problem for awhile. I "understand" that if a dog rolls in spilled latex paint, it doesn't even slow him down!!

  5. Maybe wait until you see Dusty nursing and then put a duck tape band on Sparky's leg? They're selling "ID Tape" that's the same thing and it supposedly lasts a good bit before working it's way off.

  6. I know what you mean. We raise Jerseys, and from afar, they all look alike! :)

  7. A little pink ribbon on those hairs between the ears would help... But then the other cows would make fun of her :) They are adorable!

  8. I agree with the others that suggested paint of some kind for this is a great cheapo temporary low-tech low-effort solution.. If your cows are at all skittish, the spray paint wouldn't work, but if they let you handle them, you can dab some (white) paint on by hand (or sponge or brush). The paint will wear off fairly quickly or be shed out come spring, so use plenty.

    /'m envisioning either a zebra effect or polka dots here.

  9. No udder clues?


  10. just a dab of nail polish on the forehead. simple.

  11. identifying cattle of the same breed and general appearance can be difficult, especially from afar. We got creative with the clippers and trimmed hair off the ears, switches, carved a big old letter on their sides (or a smiley face) in the summer, etc. With the more subtle alterations you couldn't tell from across the field but it was easy enough when you were close enough to start aiming for the one you wanted to cut from the herd.