A different perspective

A Cow’s Life

by Constance Breese

A Cow’s Life

Janet Woodcock

Looking back on my life story, I’ll start from the day I was born. My birth weight was 92 pounds. Born to a purebred Holstein cow, I still resemble her with mostly black legs, a white chest and white face. As a female calf, I grew up thinking I stood a good chance of staying on here at the dairy farm, unlike my brothers, who had only a one in a hundred chance of being kept on as bulls. Males have to be particularly distinguished in order to be kept, raised, trained, and evaluated to become a breeding bull. Most of them were raised as steers for beef. They had a relatively carefree life for 18 to 20 months or so, and we were always jealous watching them graze on as much grass as they liked. Their lives were short, but sweet.
Calves like me, called heifers, were raised and assessed over time to see if we had what it took to join the team of working dairy cows. I was fortunate to join the milking team. We were fed the best and tended to most by the farmers because the flavor and quality of our milk depended on it. We always had a very strict schedule to keep for milking. The farmers tried to lead us efficiently and agreeably into the parlor twice a day for milking, but that was sometimes easier said than done.
As a calf, my life had been pretty easy. I spent most of the day with my mom following her closely, drinking milk whenever I wanted. I usually trotted o to play with the other calves my size and age, but my mother was always nearby, never out of sight. I can still remember her swinging her wide-eyed head around, checking on me often, and I always felt safe in her presence. After a couple months, though, my siblings and I were expected to start doing our part for the farm, which meant we couldn’t rely on our moms anymore.
Once they separated us from our moms, we were fed cow’s milk and a powdered milk replacer by bottles several times a day. We learned to trust the farmer and other humans. Eating became associated with satisfying hunger rather than closeness to our mothers. That summer we formed a little herd and had a lazy few months, grazing all day long. We formed a group, chose my oldest sister as the leader, and hung around together all day and night. The herdsman came to see us with his dog regularly. The dog was always running around us, trying to corral us from the pasture to the barn or vice versa. But the pigs in the paddock next to us had it made—they never had to do anything. They made a bit of noise when they were roused or hungry, but other than that, they just lay on the ground in their hollowed out spots. By the time I was a year old, I weighed a healthy 830 pounds. A couple of months later, we girls all got sent through a chute. I got poked and prodded and probed, unaware that artificial insemination was being done, and within days an embryo would begin to grow in my uterus. Once I realized I was pregnant, I knew I had made my home here at the farm. I later learned that a requirement for dairy cows is being able to get pregnant easily around the age of one. I also learned that it’s important to maintain a healthy pregnancy and birth a strong calf without intervention from farmers or vets. My body changed over the next nine months, and I gave birth to a healthy fi rst calf over the summer. From then on, I officially changed my status to dairy cow. Now that I’m used to being separated every year from my calf, I can easily get into the rhythm of working twice a day in the milking parlor. With a noisy suction action, the machine draws out my milk and I’ve grown to be comfortable with the process. Sometimes the farmers even play music and I hum along to songs by the Beatles as I work. For as long as the cycle of pregnancy, birth, and lactation continues without medical problems, my life will continue with a fi xed routine but lots of free time grazing and lounging. Efficiency is everything on the farm.