May 18 2023 09:44 AM

Entering their first lactation is an entirely new experience for dairy animals.

Let’s talk about first-calf heifers, or, as I like to call them, first-calf velociraptors. If you are wondering why I call them that, just sit back, relax, and enjoy the stories of the trials and tribulations of a five-foot-four munchkin who continuously tries to be intimidating but is nowhere near it. The 1,400- to 1,600-pound heifers that come in during calving season don’t really consider me intimidating, and that’s when we do the velociraptor dance.

Now, I know what you are thinking — "has this girl lost her mind?” No, I haven’t, so let me explain. When we bring in new heifers, they are quick. They will run around the cow lot and right around us if they want. Their “fight or flight” response is going insane because they are scared of the new surroundings. They hear new noises, are walking on weird ground, and have no idea what is about to happen. I get it. Still, some days are more stressful than others. How many times I’ve been pushed out of the way by a cow rear or run through or jumped over, the world may never know.

Due to my size and lack of intimidating factors, my only real line of defense is to yell. I have a big mouth, thanks to my mother and agreed upon by my father, so my voice can and will carry. I try to be gentle and sweet talk them at first to reassure them that they are okay, but the minute they turn on me, my voice carries into the next county. Of course, I don’t like bad mouthing cattle; however, after the frustration of circling had ensued for a while, some colorful worlds may be spoken. It’s a lot of colorful words, to be exact.

Heifer calving season is always exciting because we finally get to see the genetics we researched two years prior develop. We get to see how our young ones perform and it usually gives us hope for the future. Is it stressful? Yes. Is it frustrating? Also, yes. Is it rewarding? The jury is out until the heifers start coming in on their own. No matter what, I will always refer to these skittish, jumpy, little cows as velociraptors. You never know what they’ll do next.

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.