May 2 2024 10:39 AM

Taming some of our animals creates some difficulties but also a herd that is calmer around people.

“Get out of the calf barn!” and “You aren’t allowed in there anymore” were usually the first phrases I’d hear when I came home from school and raced to the barn. The guys were joking, of course, but they sometimes secretly dreaded when I would make a beeline to the calves. The calf barn was my happy place. I always ran there first whenever I’d come to work with Dad or get off school. I loved playing with the calves and making friends with all of them. I would sit in the pen with their heads on my lap or curl up next to one and doze off. They were my best friends, and I loved them all dearly.

I remember when we switched from the calf barn to hutches. I would hide in the hutches with the calves and baby them, getting hollered at constantly to get back to work. I didn’t care. These animals were my friends, my babies, and I just wanted to pet them and hug them. Then I started milking some of “my babies,” and I soon realized why I was “banned” from the calf barn.

These little 100-pound babies far too soon would be nearly 10 times my size. They became giant, overgrown dogs who just wanted love and attention. It was never an easy task to get them in the parlor the first time as they were stubborn and tame and would just look at you if you tried to push them in the parlor or the barn — unless you have food, then they’ll knock you down.

Although their inability to be cooperative is very high and they show it consistently, I do love having my girls in the herd. The herd is calmer now than it was when I was younger. When I walk out of the parlor or through the cow pasture, noses go up and I am constantly attacked by cow kisses. My poor jeans usually end up quite wet if I’m outside pushing cows in too long. Anytime I need a hug, the cows will gladly wrap their large heads and long necks around my shoulders in order to give me comfort and for them to also receive some attention.

Stubborn, hardheaded, attention seekers, babies, and overgrown lap dogs can all describe my girls. Breaking into the calf barn and hutches as a kid regardless of the joking pleas to stay out is one of the best things I could have done. My girls mean the world to me, and I wouldn’t change them for anything. Enjoy the cow hugs and kisses when you get them. Stay safe out there, y’all.

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.