i have definitely talked a lot about addie, our family milk cow. she turns grass into cream and i love her each day with my morning tea or coffee. i adore her again as i top my salads with fresh cheese made from her milk. i sing her praises when i sit down to a bowl of yogurt or ice cream. each morning i wake at dawn, gather my stainless steel milking equipment and a basket full of garden treats for her. my eldest son and i head through the wet grass to one of her rotating pastures and spend those early morning minutes with each other. most days, it is pure delight. these past days however, the routine has been all together different. addie is not on the farm, she is a couple of miles away at our neighbor’s dairy farm getting to know their dutch belted bull oney (as in boloney). it is time to breed addie. lactation is related to pregnancy and birth and the time has come to breed her back.
cows come into heat approximately once every 21 days. when a cow (or any animal for that matter) is with other cows, or in a herd with other large animals, it is quite easy to tell when they are in. they mount each other, sniff each other, lick each other, and show all kinds of signs of mammalian mating. in our case, with addie alone since we butchered her calf last fall, it has been difficult to monitor her cycling. we pay closest attention to her milk production (which can rise and fall with ovulation), we keep a close eye for the tell tale bloody show on her tail, we gauge her mood swings (no need to elaborate here), and other outward signs of her fertility. with our best guess and a borrowed cattle trailer, we hauled addie up the road last Wednesday.
managing a bull is nothing like you would imagine having read the tale of ferdinand. this fine dutch belted our friends keep welcomes us each morning by placing himself between us and addie. this thousand plus pound male immediately snorts and paws at the dirt to let us know he believes himself boss. addie, for the past 12 days is his, not ours, and he wants us to know that. it is a slightly unsettling way to start each day.
once we adjust to the bull’s bellowing, the morning milkings pass pleasantly. our neighbors are wonderful friends and our daily chats have been full of laughs. we ponder all types of ideas but of course a fair amount of time is spent watching and commenting on the dance of bovine courtship. it soon became clear that addie was going to spend more than a few hours with her new mate. we watched a few days of decided disinterest, moved into some days of head licking ( good sign my friend tells me), and now we are solidly in the final days as she comes into what is called “standing heat”, the time she is in estrus, the time she will be bred.
perhaps i have spent a bit too much time following my fellow mammals through an intricate mating ritual, but i have found myself lying awake at night wondering about human mating. was there a day before perfumes that we too could smell our mate’s readiness? you know i love and trust my dairy friends when i tell you i was willing to ask one early morning if we humans used to behave similarly? friend i queried, have we washed away our instinct with the finest scented soaps and sprays? i know, i know…it is definitely time to bring our cow back home and move onto another topic!