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The Business End

February 5, 2013

Looking a cow in the face is not as useful as looking at the back-end.  I spend more time looking at the back-end of cows than seems normal.  Unless I am talking to my friends who have cows, then it all seems routine.   Not that Jane doesn’ t have a pretty face, and nice symmetrical hair whorls above her eyes, but most of the time I’m checking on her well-being by looking at her rear end, among other things.



Baby on board

Baby on board

At five months along, Jane’s calf is about the size of a house cat.

The business end

The business end

You can tell a lot about a cow’s general well-being by looking her cleanliness, and if her tail has manure on it, or sticking to it.  As a general rule a cow that doesn’t feel well will lie in her manure, and if there is manure sticking to her tail, and anywhere else on her coat, she’s probably got something going on, it could from overload of parasites, which is common in permanent pastures that livestock have constant access to, or a poor or wrong diet.  Those two, diet and parasites go hand in hand too, if cattle have enough of the right diet they are parasite resistant.  Also a vibrant coat is oily enough that if manure does get on the cow, it doesn’t stick.  Slick cows are what you want to see.  In the winter, most cattle have winter coats, but you don’t want a fuzzy coat look, more of a lying flat look.  Curly coated breeds are a different story, but as a general rule cows that are well fed and have access to minerals usually have a smooth coat.

Jane is one of those cows that will lie in her poop if she is under the weather.  And it can be frustrating, when your cow has 10 acres to roam around on and she picks the one square foot that has cow pie on it!  It’s up to me to notice something isn’t right, and take some action.


This is something to look for if you buy milk at a small farm, you don’t really want to see a poopy tail or manure stuck on the side or legs of the cow you’re drinking milk from.  Especially raw milk, which really has gotten a bad rap lately, and in some cases the bad rap is deserved.  I understand it’s pretty hard for consumers to really vet a small farm, but small little tidbits of information like this can give you an idea how healthy the cows are, more than the marketing buzzwords like small, raw, local, pastured, and grassfed only.  Sometimes the farmer is new at this and doesn’t understand and assumes cows just naturally have manure on them.

I do think this end is much prettier though, but I know tomorrow I will be looking at her business end too 🙂

22 Comments leave one →
  1. February 5, 2013 2:49 am

    Does Jane enjoy getting her photo taken?

    • February 5, 2013 5:47 am

      Wildramp, I think so, she’s quite a ham, although on this morning she decided she needed to keep the dogs out of the barn, so she wouldn’t stand still. Tells me she must be feeling her calf more, she’s one of those cows that doesn’t care about the dogs until her baby is on the ground, until now that is.

  2. jenj permalink
    February 5, 2013 6:13 am

    Such a pretty cow!

  3. February 5, 2013 6:54 am

    Thanks so much for the specific details. So helpful when considering buying raw milk or a cow/heifer/steer.

  4. February 5, 2013 8:58 am

    Great Captures, especially the backside! Happy Tuesday:)

  5. Chris permalink
    February 5, 2013 9:07 am

    She’s a beauty! I love that last photo of her! What does she think of your other cows…does she hang out with them or is she pretty much just a Mama’s girl?? 🙂

  6. February 5, 2013 10:58 am

    I have never seen a smooth winter coat out here. Something to shoot for.

  7. February 5, 2013 1:57 pm

    I cannot stand to see dairy cows covered in crap. I work in the dairy farm industry and get types of magazines that continually display “show” cows on the cover and inside as articles; however most of the cows are covered in manure. Corporate farming has that trouble alot. I see less of it on the small mom and pop farms. I know our girls are kept clean. Who wants to drink milk either raw or pasteurized from animals wearing their own feces? Gaaah!

    Jane is a pretty gal.

  8. amiddlinglife permalink
    February 5, 2013 4:12 pm

    This is funny. Growing up, we raised day old holstein replacement heifers on goats. My sister and I never got an allowance, but would be given one calf each spring to ‘share’, with proceeds from the sale split into our college funds. We always fought over which half we got. We always wanted the back half because you have to feed the front end, but the backend produced new calves (more money!)

  9. Kristin permalink
    February 5, 2013 6:47 pm

    Great information! From someone who doesn’t own cows but wishes to support my local farmers and desires the benefits of raw milk, it is good to know about how to tell how healthy the cows are before you buy! I always enjoy your posts! Thank you so much!

  10. February 6, 2013 7:05 am

    You referred to the symmetrical whorls above her eyes. I’ve heard/read something about that before, but I can’t remember what it was all about. Can you explain the significance of that a bit more? By the way, you’re my farming hero. 🙂

    • February 6, 2013 4:00 pm

      Tara, it’s thought in some circles that the placement of the hair whorl on the forehead indicates the calmness of the animal, higher up is more high strung and mid point or lower is calm. For the most part I’ve found it’s true in our cows. Jane doesn’t have one in the middle but two above each eye, she’s as calm as slug. Symmetry is good 🙂

    • February 7, 2013 11:04 am

      A quick primer on hair whorl placement from Temple Grandin.

  11. Trish permalink
    February 6, 2013 11:42 am

    She is lovely. If I ever move to a warmer climate I think I would like to get a guernsey! And, your blog makes me want to move to OR. My husband always says things like “there are too many people there, you will be elbow to elbow” and so on. Maybe he’s right, I wouldn’t know. In my northern experience, I think my cow likes to lay in her own poop not because she’s sick, but because its warmer. Yep, its frustrating, and there is a lot of cleaning on my part. My main defense is frequent stall cleaning and lots of bedding, and when its really cold the poop freezes fairly quickly so she stays cleaner. But there is still a lot of cow cleaning. Sometimes its easy because its so cold stuff freezes to her fur right away and you can brush it off, and sometimes its harder, like twice daily having to bring hot wash water out in a cooler and scrub the heck out of her and then devotedly dry her because wet hair and skin in freezing temperatures equals danger. When its colder than -10 she wears a horse blanket and that helps because it also shields her from her poop and she is less likely to lay in it. But I do think she thinks a warmer pile of cow plops isn’t a bad place to lay. Sigh… Fortunately extreme cold is really bad for the microbes that can wreak havoc on raw milk (though we are still careful) and its also really good for rapidly cooling off your milk!
    I’ve got to keep on the bright side because when I look out my window and think its still going to be cold and white for more than 2 months, and then I look at other people’s blogs and there isn’t even snow, it can drive me a little crazy!
    Thank you, thank you, thank you for the good posts!

    p.s. my cow is still a happy cow, a friendly cow, and a snuggly cow, despite the cold. Sometimes, she is the the most cheerful creature here, humans and dog included.

    • February 6, 2013 3:58 pm

      Trish, I would not like to live where it gets so cold! I think Jane would want a blankie! I agree cows are pretty cheerful, always glad to see us and pretty funny characters in general. 🙂

  12. Karen permalink
    February 8, 2013 1:05 pm

    What age do you first breed a dairy heifer? This is my first calf.

    • February 8, 2013 6:04 pm

      Karen, many breed so the cow calves around her second birthday. Besides age, you should also make sure your heifer is about 75% her expected mature weight. Some are late bloomers, so it depends really. I’m an advocate of spring calving, so I wouldn’t hold to the second birthday rule if it meant having a calf in fall or winter.

  13. Vest Pocket Family Farm permalink
    February 10, 2013 1:15 pm

    There’s also where the family cow is living. My cow lives in a corral (mud hole) in the winter. I don’t like the results of this at all. She’s gunky every day. So she gets her udder and any other anatomy washed with warm water twice a day. I’m not drinking milk from a cow wearing poop armor. But, I can’t keep her from laying in poop either with only two dry spots to choose from.

    • February 10, 2013 1:30 pm

      Regina, I know what you mean – keeping them clean is a full time job 😦 Give Penny a big hug for me!

  14. Vest Pocket Family Farm permalink
    February 11, 2013 9:55 am

    Consider Penny hugged and a nice eye brow scratch delivered. Had the AI guy out for her Sunday, she’s bred with Four Winds Deemand ET semen. We’re so hoping for a heifer.

  15. February 19, 2013 12:37 pm

    I just ran across your blog, and was amazed to read the manure on the butt thing. I have never known that. I live in WY and we are always driving past herds of cattle. It is not unusual to see them covered in manure. I, like I assume many others, thought that it was normal.

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