Should We Name Our Calves?

Frack on arrival

The rain that fell over the past couple of days has done wonders for the produce garden. We had fresh zucchini, yellow squash, eggplant and new potatoes with our meat for dinner last night. It’s beginning to feel like a real summer. Other parts of Kentucky got too much rain. Middlesboro received almost six inches of wet stuff yesterday and flash flooding too. Several people lost their homes and I can’t help thinking about how frightening it must be to have an unexpected flood take everything you own. Fortunately, no one died in the onslaught. This morning, however, the skies are clear and a brilliant shade of blue–the kind we get here when it is going to be a scorcher.

After Mike takes care of the calves this morning, he plans to call the guy we bought them from to deliver more babies. I don’t think we will get all of them today, but at some point an additional thirteen are expected. It is also nearing time to sell our first few older calves. Frick and Frack are probably 700 lbs. now and have such beautiful markings. Hopefully, they will sell as breeding stock for someone with Jerseys.  Although I know little to nothing about what prompts a farmer to decide which bull to breed with his cows, their personalities are such the farmer will have a good choice. Frick is docile, nurturing to the smaller calves, and curious. Frack…well…Frack tries to mount anything! Some of that is the domination game the cattle play and some of it is being a “teenaged” bull.

Frack has another known advantage. He is anatomically built okay for the job. Apparently, some bulls have difficulties due to organ size, shape, or other adversities. That’s as polite as I can say that. I found the information when surfing to find out how one acquires fluid for insemination of a cow. I have to admit a little squeamishness over the whole subject, but if you are interested, search bull breeding. When the ones we plan to breed come of age, the task will be performed naturally.

I think we will take a little loss by selling Frick and Frack for breeding rather than beef stock. Meat prices are up at the moment, afterall, and if the one Jersey breeding bull I saw listed on craigslist is any indication, price per pound is less than the going meat rate. That bull, however, was dehorned. Frick and Frack are not and we plan to sell them as is. Young as they are, their horns are still short, so if that is important to the new buyer he’ll have to handle it. We also don’t know positively their fertility, but if Frack’s libido is any indication, they will be excellent with a herd of females in heat.

Do they call it ‘heat’ with cows?

Big Mama has also reached the size to move on. I will seriously hate to see her go because she has been the protector of the herd and I think she is good ‘mama’ material. She is a beautiful polled black Angus, but being the eldest of the herd is quickly approaching breedable age.

A cow’s gestation period is the same as a human’s, about nine months. I suspect Big Mama will be of a year old by November, the perfect age for impregnation, but since most farmers prefer their cows to calf in the spring, she needs to stay a heifer until about next June. Big Mama was not purchased with that in mind, at least, not here. At the present time we do not have the facilities to hold her over the winter. We will build facilities for the cattle we planned to breed, Sam and Diane (the Charolais), a pair of same-size black Angus calves, and two Guernsey pairs (Spot, Sexy Six and two others), but Big Mama was not in those plans.  I wish we could keep her. I also wish we had a female Holstein to breed with Hal and would love to keep some of the Jerseys to breed too. We simply cannot keep the whole herd to breed ourselves, though. We need some income from these animals!

So everyone has been telling me I shouldn’t name the calves because it is harder emotionally to let them go. Maybe they are right. I also know me, and it will be hard regardless of whether they have a name or a number. I also think that if having an emotional attachment and then letting go in order for the cycle of life to continue is so hard that we shouldn’t name a calf, maybe we shouldn’t name our children either. I mean, it is rather like when your children become young adults. You’ve spent your life working yourself out of a job and looking forward to seeing the fruits of your labors, but at some point, high school graduation, going off to college, marriage, or whatever it strikes you that they won’t be around much any more. It hurts, but it is also a fulfilling joy in the process. We would never dream not to name our precious baby; I don’t see why naming a calf that will be sold is that much different. We know from the beginning there will be a day they will move on and we are only their caretakers until then. Such is the cycle of life.

Naming the cattle is easier for recognition, too. If I say to Mike, “Big Mama is in the shed,” for example, he knows precisely which animal I refer to. If I was to say, “Number 102 is in the shed,” he would have to figure out whether 102 is an Angus or another breed, a male or a female, one with or without horn-buds, etc. for identification. It would be almost like telling someone to go out into the garden and pick “some #5 vegetables” without specifying zucchini or potatoes. So far as I have been able to tell, vegetables have no individual personalities so there is no need to say, “Go pick Bob the cauliflower, and George the lima bean,”  but calves, like children and household pets do have personalities.  Frick is a gentle, docile little bull. Spot is curious and loving. Big Mama is motherly. Sam is brotherly. Each is a joy to treasure while we have them.

Another reason I like to name the calves is they respond to their own names and do so quickly. The first time I name a calf, looking straight at him or her, it seems to click that when that particular sound comes out of my mouth, I am talking to that particular individual. They learn their names faster than a dog. If a day or a few days go by, it does not change their recognition of that name. Like cats, they come when called only if they feel like it, but when called they always respond to their own name by stopping whatever they are doing and looking towards me. In the gathering at the trough, for example, I can say a name and that one calf, and only that calf, will stop eating and look at me, then either continue eating or walk towards me. Cattle are smart, so if they are even moderately intelligent, why shouldn’t they be named?

So, contrary to popular opinion, I advocate naming the animals in a small herd. We shall find out whether I am correct in doing so within the next month or two. Meanwhile, I will maintain calling them by their names and remain in denial as to their futures. Guess that makes me a good ‘parent’.

On a side note, check out this Chicago blogger’s opinion about Kentucky. The evidence is mounting…VACATION IN THE BLUEGRASS!!


About cattlebaroness

I am a graduate of the University of Kentucky with a BA in History, nearing completion of a Master of Arts in American history. Born and raised first on military bases around the world, then in Orange County, CA, I moved to Kentucky when my children were small. I now live on a small family farm and am learning about farm life, planting and our newest addition to the landscape--cattle. Until a month or two ago, all I knew about 'cows' were that they came in brown, black and white and that some are raised for milk and others for meat. I am a quick study out of necessity.
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6 Responses to Should We Name Our Calves?

  1. Jim says:

    I have no direct experience with the issue, but I think you make a good argument about the convenience and precision of identifying by name instead of number. You don’t mention whether the beef from your farm furnishes your own table or not — that’s where I’d be rather sad, to sit down to a big plate of Daisy. Otherwise, if you can deal with the emotions of sending them to market, I’d say name away. (Doesn’t seem like the emotional tie would be any less between you and #102 than between you and Big Mama.) I agree with the general underestimation of the intelligence of cattle — had a farmer buddy once whose cows learned to turn a water spigot that they weren’t supposed to be able to operate, by using their heads! Amazing. Thanks for writing.

    • As the herd grows larger, it is more difficult to name them, I admit. When we lost Nando shorty after he arrived, for me, it was a comfort to know he had a name, knew his name, and knew we were trying to help him. He wasn’t just an unknown steer whose body was to be hauled off to wherever they haul dead cattle. He existed; he was important; he was special. One day, I might have to eat Daisy, but at least I’ll know she had the best life I could give her until then. And yes, cattle that can turn on a water spigot are smart…ours are brilliant! The learned how to open the hooked latch on the outside of their pen and get out. I think they were looking for Nando. I keep expecting to go over one morning and find them all together because they learned how to thwart the electric fence between the older calves and the new babies– and to see Smiley grinning about it!

  2. It sounds like you take great care of your animals, and I think naming them gives you even more incentive to treat them well and sell them to reputable breeders. Keep up the great work.

    And as far as Kentucky–it is an amazing place to vacation and visit! Keep up the good word and thanks for the mention about my blogpost!

    • Thank you. I am a California transplant to Kentucky, although my grandparents were from the foothills of Appalachia. It has always been home to me and every chance I can promote this beautiful state, its people, or its products, I will! Thank you for mentioning us in your blog.

  3. JAS says:

    Ah, but here is a point to consider regarding whether you should name your cattle… what happens when you send the critter you named to the butcher, and the packages all come back… can you eat a critter you named? Or sell it for beef without a twinge? I’m not advocating not naming, btw, but it can be pretty hard to pull out a package of steaks and realize that a week ago they were Buttercup!

    • As I replied to another comment, “One day, I might have to eat Daisy, but at least I’ll know she had the best life I could give her until then.” I still ate eggs when we had chickens. 😉

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