Jan. 27 2022 08:00 AM

Working with cows every day showcases many of their personality traits.

Growing up on the family dairy, I had many jobs and responsibilities over the years. Like most farm kids, I started out helping my granddad feed milk to the calves. As I got older, I moved from the young calves to the weaned calves and became the main feeder. My responsibilities included feeding and watering cattle from preweaned age to yearlings twice a day, every day. I learned to milk when I was finally tall enough to reach the cows in the parlor, and in 2017, I took over the parlor full time due to labor and health issues at the farm. After working around cows for my 25 years of life, and working with them in all stages of life, I have concluded that cows are nothing more than 1,600-pound toddlers.

I am not a mother, nor do I know much about toddlers. My only experience with toddlers comes from being the oldest of three kids, being around younger cousins, and in recent years, my friends’ kids. However, a lot of what I have heard folks say resonates with the daily litany of words I tend to repeat to the ladies. From telling them to not eat something and asking them what they are doing to wondering how in the world they got themselves into the positions they are in, it seems as though my role of “caretaker” has now been morphed into “mother.”

For example, I had a cow try to jump through a window the other day. I looked at her and said, “What are you doing? How did you get here?” She simply looked at me and then proceeded to “make nice” by licking my arm and mooing softly. It’s nearly impossible to be mad when she looks pathetically adorable while stuck. At the same time she was stuck in the window, one of her herdmates decided to get ahold of some net wrap and go running across the barn chewing on it. After chasing her down, I distinctly remember looking at her and saying, “You can’t eat that! It is not cow nom-noms!” Yes, we refer to cow food as “cow nom-noms.” In the picture above, good ol’ Number 14 decided that she wanted to hide between the gates from the other cows. When I tried to back her up, she proceeded to stick her nose up at me. It reminded me of telling my cousin “No” just to receive a foot stomp and a look back.

Cows are some of the most interesting animals I have ever raised. Each one has their own personality and definitely resembles that of a young child. From all the “disciplinary actions” to the sweet cow hugs and licks, I wouldn’t trade this life for the world. Besides, at the end of the day they are just 1,600-pound toddlers that need love and affection as well as attention.

Courtney Henderson

The author is a sixth-generation farmer and fifth-generation dairy producer in southwest Virginia, where she and her family own and operate a 145-head Holstein dairy. Courtney is involved in agriculture organizations throughout her community and is a graduate of Virginia Tech.