Conducting bovine interviews ...

January 5, 2023

Lately I've been conducting bovine interviews....

WANTED IMMEDIATELY: 

6S Family Farm is currently accepting applications to fill the management position of LEAD COW. Applicant must possess the following qualities:

  • A calm, amiable demeanour.
  • A loud bellow sufficient to call the whole herd from all ends of the paddock.
  • A compulsion to come when called.

Position to be filled immediately.

Renumeration: In addition to all the benefits of working as a herd cow at 6S the successful applicant will receive Lifetime Immoonity.

 So there I found myself, face to face with a whole herd of potential candidates animatedly expounding upon the benefits of working in this management position at 6S and what is my sales pitch met with? 

Nothing.

Disinterested, blank expressions staring back at me. 

I tried my ace in the hole again. This time drawing out the syllables: liiiffffetiiimmme immmooonnnityyyy.

Still nothing but eye contact avoidance, cud chewing, and murmuring in the back rows. I tell ya, good help is hard to find! I hope they'll at least ruminate on my idea for a while. 😜

If you've been with us for a while you know that one of the principles that 6S Family Farm is built around is Soil Health and one of the biggest ways we continue to improve our soils is with Management Intensive Grazing (just a fancy term to say that we move our beef herd around... ALOT.) By continually moving our herds from grazing paddock to grazing paddock we improve our soil health, herd health and pasture health. 

Mostly by managing poop distribution. Sounds enthralling doesn't it? 

It's actually really cool though ...

It's what gets us up in the morning. 

Did you know that the average cow expels approx. 80lbs of poop per day?!?! That's a whole lotta poop to manage! 💩💩💩💩💩💩💩💩

Aaaaanyways ... more on the wonders and benefits of cow poop another time ... back to my present dilemma ... In order to effectively move a bovine herd there is one essential element that you MUST have. 

We're talking vital.

Crucial.

Indispensable.

That key element is what we call a "Lead Cow". 

A lead cow does exactly what it sounds like she does. She'll spot you coming from a ways off and wait for your call. When that call comes she lifts her head and bellows to make the whole herd aware that it's time to moooove. Then she makes a beeline for wherever you're standing and eagerly, faithfully, and trustingly follows her farmers to greener pastures. Her confidence gives assurance to the whole herd and causes them to move as a single unit. As a result, the whole moving process is accomplished quickly and efficiently.

A lead cow is one of nature's wonders.

Early in 2022 we lost our lead cow. It sucks but sometimes it happens.  Usually an enterprising middle aged cow with some life experience will step up to fill that role within days but this time, not so. It has been a source of frustration this past season ...

Without a lead cow the moving scenario is much different. 

You will approach the herd and call as you always do .... "Coooooome Booooooss"

One or two cows will look at you with interest, there will be a few quiet calls among the closest animals, and most of the herd will start heading in your general direction, but then ... confusion reigns. A few older and wiser cows might follow you through the gate but without the confident initiative of the lead cow the rest of the herd is unsure of themselves and inevitably they will pause, then mill around uncertainly.  As good farmers you are working to avoid "the pause" at all costs. When the herd pauses the momentum is lost and the probability that the herd will split grows with each passing second. If you've got an experienced cow dog their motivating presence may be enough to encourage the herd forward through the gate and salvage the situation but if you have young, inexperienced cow dogs (like we currently do) they're just as likely to get excited from the tension felt in the moment and cause full scale pandemonium by running amongst the cattle or putting too much aggressive pressure on them causing some to bolt.

The goal is always to have the whole group move together as a unit because it is how herd animals feel safest and remain calm. If the herd splits, with some animals moving through to a new paddock and some turning back, it results in a load of confusion and agitation. The younger animals especially are much more likely to bolt and become separated from their mothers which causes a substantial amount of bawling, bellowing and undue stress.

Without the lead cow's fortitude and certainty the whole herd lacks confidence and the outcome is unsure. Forget 'quick and efficient', instead the process becomes strenuous and difficult. 

A lead cow is worth her weight in gold. 

Sigh - we're hoping we'll be able to fill the position soon.

I'll let you know how it all turns out. 

Joy Stephens

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