Jan. 21 2022 08:00 AM

The woods, minus 15°F temperatures, and calves on the run led to yet another unpredictable day as a dairy farmer

There are two things all livestock farmers can probably agree on. Firstly, every day is unpredictable. You can start your day with a packed, set agenda, and in a matter of minutes your plan is abandoned. Secondly, it’s an all-hands-on-deck situation when the cows get out.

Both of these situations happened on our farm today. Conveniently, when the wind chill was about minus 15°F (insert a massive eye roll here). Since it was one of the colder days in the forecast, I was planning to spend my afternoon working in our farm office, which is somewhat heated, entering calf birthdates, cow dry-up dates, cows sold, and so on into our computer program. This seemed like a great task to stay warm and still be productive between our regular morning and evening cattle chores.

About 15 minutes into my data entry project, chaos ensued. My dad burst into the office and said the phrase we all know and dread: “The cows are out.” He had been using a sledgehammer to get a frozen tire off our feed mill when the calves in one of our sheds nearby got spooked, started running, and jumped out of their pen.

I immediately dropped what I was doing and sprang into action to help. After a quick count of each pen, we determined there were five calves unaccounted for. So, the search began for the handful of missing 4-month-old Holsteins.

Usually, when dairy cows and calves get out, they don’t stray too far. They might meander around the farm to stop by other groups of cows, but they very rarely wander beyond our main buildings. However, after a search through open sheds, rows of bales, and other buildings, we could not find the missing calves. My dad did, however, find hoof prints in the snow leading into one of our neighboring fields.

We dashed to the truck (in an effort to warm up our faces from the freezing winds) and headed up the road and through the fields in search of our calves. After going back and retracing the path of hoofprints (trying not to get confused with all the deer tracks along the way), we realized the calves had taken a sharp turn along our fence line and headed straight toward our woods. Awesome, right?

We soon were on foot, trudging through the snow, searching for the little rascals until we spotted the calves across the creek, up a hill, and heading into another section of trees. I called my brother (he had just returned from town) to bring the 4-wheeler while we started our hike to get around them and begin herding the group back toward the farm. After a lot of walking, chasing, and freezing, we managed to get the calves back to their building and sorted into their correct group of friends. I’m not sure who was happier to be back to the farm — us or the calves. Needless to say, it was a good cardio workout for all involved.

When the ordeal was finally over and the mischievous calves were back where they belonged, we started up with evening chores as usual, knowing full well that the eventful afternoon was just another day lived as dairy farmers.

Molly Schmitt

The author dairy farms with her parents and brother near Hawkeye, Iowa. The family milks approximately 300 head of grade Holstein cows at Windsor Valley Dairy LLC — split half and half between a double-eight parallel milking parlor and four robotic milking units. In the spring of 2020, Molly decided to take a leap and fully embrace her love for the industry by returning full time to her family’s dairy.