It surprises me, sometimes, that I can still so vividly remember the cows we had 30 years ago. I don’t have photos of them, but I can remember their names, their markings, their personalities. And the cows on the side of the barn I milked – I can even remember how much milk they gave.
The first Holsteins dad got were young heifers. He still had the beef cows and had bought them to raise as replacement heifers. When he decided to go into dairy farming, they were already in the barn, four fewer he had to buy. There was Polly, a sleek, delicate girl. She was mostly black with a little tuft of white on her forehead. She was also very mild-natured. My little sister used to sit on her back if she was laying down and Polly would just lay there chewing her cud. Sunshine was about half and half black and white. And then their was Teacup. She was an enormous, shaggy black with white spots. She was pure Holstein, but was built like a Brown Swiss. Huge! And a big baby. And finally, there was Blossom. Unfortunately, Blossom never bred, so we could not keep her.
We had 4 Jerseys. Margaret was named after one of dad’s former co-workers. I never met the woman, but dad never liked her. You can guess what kind of a personality the cow had. Miss Piggy was on my side of the barn. She was a real pro at kicking the milking machine off. Jers was an average Jersey in every way. Dad couldn’t even think of an original name for her. Itty Bitty was even smaller and more delicate than most Jerseys. She had never been de-horned, so she had a pair of delicate, black horns curving in over her forehead.
Itty Bitty was bred when dad bought her. We could never be sure what kind of bull she was bred to, but we suspect it was a Hereford. I fell in love with her calf the first time I saw her. She was strawberry-blond. Her face was white with red spots all over it. I named her Freckles. She was my own special calf. A mongrel of a cow who never gave much milk, but my own special sweetie just the same.
We had a Hereford named Red. She was a hold-over from the time when dad kept beef cows. I’m not sure why dad kept her, but I suspect sentimental reasons. She was a nice girl, but she would try to steal milk from the other cows. Dad had to get her a nose flap. It went in her nostrils like a clip-on earring and had tiny spikes that would prick her nose when she tried to suckle. It would lay out flat on the ground when her head was down to eat or drink and hung loosely in front of her nose when her head was level. But when she angled her head up under another cow to try to nurse, the other cow’s body would push the tiny spikes into her delicate nose and make her stop.
We had a truly ancient Guernsey named Winky. We had a distant cousin, Grace, who used to own a single cow, a Guernsey. Grace became too old to take care of/milk her cow any more. It broke her heart to sell her cow, but she had no choice. Grace would always join us for Thanksgiving and was talking about her cow. Grace’s cow, she told us, always tried to get up front end first and would sometimes get stuck, sitting up like a dog. Our Winky did that all the time. We took Grace to the barn after dinner to see Winky and it turns out Dad had bought her old cow. Grace was so happy to know we had her cow. We felt pretty good about it too. Another weird thing about Winky was that she was scared to cross the road. Our house, barn, and one pasture were on one side of the road. All the fields and the other pastures were on the other side of the road. All the other cows would run across the road like a mob. Winky would NEVER cross unless a person was holding her collar. We didn’t have to pull her or anything. She would start walking as soon as we grabbed her collar. She was just scared to go across by herself.
One of the cows on my side of the barn was named Warty Mary (her official name was Dirty Mary because she always laid down in her own shit and thus always had cling-ons all over her thighs.). She had these long, nasty warts on her teats. Every time I stripped her to check for mastitis some of those warts would break off. But they always grew back. It was SOOOO GROSS! She was a nice girl, but I hated milking her.
We had one girl named Whitey. She was mostly white with small black spots. Dad would always pick a mostly white bull out of the Carnation catalogue for her. He kept trying to get a pure white calf, but it never happened.
There was a cow on dad’s side of the barn named Buddy. She always licked dad’s back when he was milking her and her neighbor. Buddy wore a hole right through the back of dad’s barn coat.
We had a cow named Lopsided. She had one slack quarter on her udder. She gave lots of milk, but to milk her dad had to twist one of the milking cups around to cut off the vacuum. And another cow with a weird udder was Backwards. Her udder was lower in the front than in the back, which made it hard to keep the milking machine on her.
We had a pair of twins, Betty and Barbie. They didn’t look alike, but they were always together. Dad kept their tie stalls next to each other. When they went out to pasture they always stayed together when grazing.
Dad named one cow Dancer because she could never stand still. She didn’t kick or anything, she was just constantly shifting her weight from foot to foot. And there was Fleet Feet who had to kick up her heels every time she was turned out to pasture.
We had Ears who had enormous, fuzzy ears. She used them as weapons if she got annoyed with too much attention. If she got tired of me petting her head, she would flap those big ears at my hands. It REALLY stung!
We had an ancient girl named Beulah. She was mostly white with small black spots. More like Dalmatian markings than holstein markings. She was all bones; hip bones, pelvic bones, knee bones. And huge, pendulous udder. The bucket of the milking machine had to partially rest on the floor to fit under her udder.
There was Midnight, who was a dull black color with very rough hair. Her daughter, Moombeam, was also black, but her hair was softer and she had one stripe of white hair that followed her spine. And Moonbeam’s daughter, Star, was all black with a star shaped white mark on her forehead.
There was Dinky, a delicate-looking Black Jersey with a nasty temper. She was a kicker. She kicked whoever tried to milk her. She kicked the milking machine off all the time. It’s lucky for us she was so small. Her kicks really smarted at her small size. If she had the power of a full-blood holstein, she really could have done some damage.
We had one cow Dad never could come up with a name for. She was average in every way. Average looks, average personality. We just called her 90 after her ear tag number. When she had a heifer calf I named her 90, Jr..
There were Flo, Wishful, Browny, Daffodil, Buttercup, Kathy, Clover, Baby, Patsy, Loretta, Daisy, Fuzzy, and Ada. I remember the names, but not much else about them. I think I remember the names because I’m the one who called them when it was time to bring them in for milking. Of course I used the generic “Come Boss, Come Boss!”. But when they weren’t at the gate and I had to go looking for them, I would call ALL their names off in a long list.
We had a holstein named Patti. I don’t recall much about her. But I do vividly remember her daughter, Silky. Silky was a beautiful calf. She was a “Black Jersey”, but she wasn’t black, nor did she look like a Jersey. She was a dark, dark red color with white spots. Kind of like an Ayrshire, but there was no Ayrshire in her. And her hair was as smooth and soft as corn silk.
I had a real soft spot for the calves (who doesn’t?). There was Chocolate, out of Backwards. Carmel, out of Flo. Peanut Butter out of Buttercup. I named them. Can you tell I am fond of sweets? I named Bonita out of Wishful my first year of Spanish class. Sundancer was out of Sunshine. Polly had Pollyanna and Ghost. Socks out of Fleet Feet. And when my girl, Freckles, calved I named her baby Ginger.
We even tried raising a bull calf once. He was a Guernsey/Holstein cross out of Winky. I named him Bullwinkle. He was black and white in color, but he was shaped like a Guernsey. Except his face. He had more vertical wrinkles between his eyes than any cow I have ever seen before or since. We watched him very carefully, knowing bull calves usually turn mean. Bullwinkle never did turn mean, but we had to get rid of him any way. He was actually very friendly. A little TOO friendly. When he started trying to mount anyone who entered his pen, Dad knew someone would get hurt if we kept him until he became full grown.
I really did love every one of them. And 30 years later I still miss them. Sometimes wish I could go back in time just for a little while.