Making Hay

Week of May 5th, 2009 | The weather was sunny and warm.

Bouncing Bovines

By Andrea Holm

Andrea and sister Rachel.

Andrea and sister Rachel.

Andrea Holm is a seventeen year-old Organic Valley farmer. She is one of six sisters, ages 18-10, who work together to run their thirty-five cow organic dairy farm in Elk Mound, WI. They rotational graze their Jersey cows, who are all pets. Every day Andrea can be found in the barn milking, or out in the pasture moving fences, if she's not there, you will likely find her in the house playing the piano.

It was a wonderful spring evening in early April, while the ground still resembled a brown wasteland, you could see individual blades of grass peeking through the thawing ground. After finishing chores and scraping the corral, I started to walk the cows out to their paddock. As I walked over the hill I could see the cows were headed out to the farthest corner of their paddock, the opposite direction of their hay feeders. I started walking backward towards their feeders calling as I went, "Come boss...come bossy..., wrong way babies, your feeders are over here!" Immediately I caught the attention of a spunky cow named Minnie. She diligently turned around and headed my way, bobbing her head as she came. Reluctantly, the rest of the cows followed, trailing behind Minnie who was eagerly trying to catch up with me. As I went faster, so did Minnie, and so did the rest of the cows who were starting to think that there actually was something interesting where I was going.

I crested the hill and Minnie came in sight of the hay feeders. She gave them hardly a glance, and continued to look at me as if saying, "Well, what next?"

"Go on baby." I said, "Your hay is right there." Minnie refused to take the hint, so I continued to the feeders, with Minnie following, and with the rest of the cows following Minnie. I ran the last few yards to the nearest feeder, and heard Minnie galloping behind me. I reached the feeder and turned around, Minnie snorted and skittered backwards a few steps. Laughing, I realized what it was she had wanted the whole time, me to play with her. Obliging, I ran behind the feeder, Minnie bounded forward and stopped with a snort on the other side of it. I ran around the corner at her, she bounded at me, I halted, and she bounced away in a circle.

By now all the rest of the cows were on the top of the hill with us and avidly watching Minnie and I play. I ran back behind the feeder and Minnie bounded back forward, ears as far forward as they go. I ran out at her and skittered sideways around her, sending her off in another ridiculously looking bouncy circle. She stopped and coughed a bit, and when she finished, I ran around her again in the funny sideways shuffle that cows love to use. This once again sent her bounding away and bouncing in a circle, but this time a cow named Autumn joined her in the dance. Again I ran at Minnie, only this time I ran straight at her face, then turned around and ran away a few yards. This sent Autumn bouncing in a circle while Minnie bounded around butting the other cows and then ending with the bovine's irresistible bouncy circle with a few other cows joining in.

By this time I was getting tired, but Minnie still looked quite fresh. So I took off for the water tank, about 30 yards away. By looking at her shadow, I could see that Minnie was chasing after me, but by the sound of it, so were the other cows too. Sure enough, when I reached the tank and whirled around, the whole herd was there—as excited as Minnie. I ran at Minnie and a few other cows that were by her and they all took off bouncing around in circles, which sent everyone else bounding off in circles, which excited the first bouncers again and set them off, and so on.

It was quite a sight, about 60 Jersey cows, all having the time of their life, bouncing around in circles, udders swinging crazily on cows, and heifers making ridiculous little moos.

Laughing, I turned around, slipped through the barb wire fence, and headed down the hill. To my right was a beautiful setting sun, to my left was a pale full moon, down the hill ahead of me was the barn, house, and other buildings, as well as my younger sisters in the front yard, shouting and yelling as they tried to play a three person softball game, and behind me probably still bouncing around, were our wonderful cows.

Farm Fact: A cow grazes by curling her tongue around the grass and cutting it off with her lower teeth and a slight upward movement of her head. She will eat about 100 lbs. (45 kg) of grass a day.

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