The sign of a good cow is how well she takes care of her calf. There is one cow in our herd that is too good of a mother. Her tag is colored green, and it bears the number 78.
In the spring of 2008 I was about 6 months pregnant and had fallen in love with calving season. I marveled at the sight of calves being born, at the new life all around me. I spent my mornings in the tractor feeding cows, and my afternoons cleaning out the pens in the barn. I learned how to tag and vaccinate the newborn calves, and how to lure a cow into the corral (put her calf on a sled, tie the sled to the 4-wheeler, and tow the calf into the corral). I also learned to tread lightly around the new moms, as their hormones were still adjusting.
78 Green and her calf ended up in a smaller pen inside the corral. We soon figured out how wildly protective she was of her calf. There were about 4 of us standing around the outside of the pen, trying to figure out how to get to the calf so we could tag it. My husband got inside the pen and slowly walked a few steps toward the calf. He reached his hands out to grab the calf. He was almost to the calf when 78 Green charged at him, bellowing at the top of her lungs, practically smoking from the ears. He ran to the fence, flung himself over, and landed on his butt. He scrambled to his feet and everyone started laughing hysterically. After a little discussion, he teased the cow from the open gate and she charged him again, running through the opening and giving him the chance to swing it shut, separating her from her calf. Someone tagged the calf and then we herded them both out of the corral.
My second experience with Green 78 took place in the spring of 2009. I had pretty much forgotten about her. I was in the calving pasture feeding the cows with my father-in-law. We each drove a tractor. The cows were gathering around us in hungry anticipation. My father-in-law was preparing to dump a load of hay onto the fresh snow. Communicating by radio, he asked me to get out of my tractor and guide his movement. I stepped out and started walking towards him. I motioned with my hands how he should position his tractor bucket. All of a sudden, she was there, bellowing and charging. It seemed like she was right on top of me, although in reality she was probably 20 feet away. As the adrenaline surged through me, I raced back to the safety of the tractor cab. I slammed the door and looked out, expecting her to be pawing at the steps of the tractor. Instead she was licking her lips, watching the hay being dumped to the ground. I caught my breath and started laughing at myself. Now her number was seared into my mind.
The last time I saw Green 78 was this spring. My mother-in-law and I were moving some pairs of cows and calves from the calving pasture into a different pasture. I saw Green 78 was in the group, and alerted my mother-in-law. I stayed far away at first, gently guiding the group to the new grass. As we moved the herd, some cows would wander away from their calves. The moms would suddenly realize they didn't have their calves with them. Panicking, they would run back into the herd, calling for their calves. Green 78 never separated from her calf. They stayed together the whole time. I got brave (okay, cocky) and tried to get a little closer, but she bellowed at me and charged a few feet. She stopped though. I realized she wouldn't come all the way to get me because it would have meant leaving her calf too far away. My fear was replaced with admiration for this excellent mother. I won't go near her again. But I won't have to.