Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Queen of the Rodeo

Kimberly and I exchanged concerned looks momentarily the day we came by to pick up Maddie and her little calf.  As expected, Maddie was (and remains) the sweetest and calmest cow I've ever met.  And also the most affectionate.  Her little calf, however, was a different story.  Regardless of her early upbringing around people, she tended towards acting more like a mini bucking bronco than calf, when given the opportunity.  She skittered away from both of us when Kimberly tried to catch her for loading into the trailer.  The whites of her eyes showed against eggplant fur, and she was breathing heavily.  But I wasn't too concerned with Rodeo's early, almost feral, behavior.  She was (and still is) nursing and had very little use for humans.  We brought her home and led her from the trailer on a lead rope.  For one whole hour she pulled against the rope like it was on fire, her bottom stuck straight up in the air, hooves dug into the ground, head tossing, those white ringed eyes wide open, and snorting dramatically as if her life were in danger.  To be fair, how would she know the difference between impending death and the beginning of a wonderful relationship with new owners?  After all, I remind myself with all my animals daily, she is a cow - she cannot know the difference (yet).

Since that first day we quickly learned that the secret to all animals' hearts is also the key to unlock miss Rodeo Queen.  Eventually she realized that we are the keepers of all things alfalfa and oat related, the two most precious commodities to a cow (aside from mother's milk, of course).  At first she'd come only so close that she could slurp up a few pieces of grain with the very tippy tip of her tongue, leaning forward at the edge of her front hooves, neck strained, and eyes bugged violently from her sockets in complete fear.  But oh, how the fear must have been worth the delicious risk.  Soon, I was moving my grain-filled palm closer to my chest, forcing her forward, forward, slowly so that - before long- she had to withstand gentle scratches and pats in order to retrieve the glorious grain/nectar.  Oh - the torment.

Luckily for me, and for the calf, the entire process was expedited because of the forced separation that must occur with dairy animals.  The only way to actually milk the mother is to keep the baby away for long enough intervals to produce more milk.  I hemmed and hawed over the necessity of separation.  It seemed cruel to keep them apart for any length of time when they had only just undergone a traumatic change in living situation.  I imagined the devastation it would cause.  The screaming.  The tears (mine or theirs?).  Then I realized I was guilty of anthropomorphism - my typical go-to reaction when it comes to animals - and one morning I hooked Rodeo to a lead rope and pulled (dragged) her into the front yard where she shared a fence with the cow pasture and Maddie.  Then I stuck my fist in my mouth and squinted up my eyes waiting for the subsequent screaming and panic that would surely ensue.  But.......nothing.  Instead, Rodeo trotted to the lush bermuda that still covers our front yard and started to happily eat this new, rare commodity - GRASS!

The two weeks I spent waiting to finally separate the baby from her mama, all in anticipation of torture and drama, was for naught.  Rodeo comes running now when she sees us arrive at the pasture gate in the morning.  She trots right into the front yard and makes herself happily at home with the nice coastal hay she's provided, the handfuls of grain she's fed in trade for neck scratching and back-patting.  She has, quite literally, become the queen of the most prime real estate on the property.  The separation has also afforded us a lot of QT with the tiny royalty, and she walks right up once I sit down on the ground.  It's become her habit to cover my face and clothing in slimy calf licks - something that may seem appalling to most - but we consider a sign of progress and victory.  The bucking bronco we brought home one month ago has transformed into one of the more affectionate creatures on the property.  Further proof that most animals deserve second (sometimes third) chances.  Also, that first impressions aren't always accurate - and all that.  Kimberly worried that she might grow into the name, maybe she should have been named something with a less high-strung connotation?  But considering how she's taken to ruling the front pasture, I'd say she got the name just right.

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