Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Heather Smith Thomas: Notes from Sky Range Ranch — Melva and Marla, Part Two: The Twins Grow Up

 . . . continued from Melva and Marla, Part One: Twin Beef Calves

Our first set of twin beef calves were identical heifers named Melva and Marla, born in 1977. We gave them to our young son and daughter, as the start of their own cow herds. Those black brockle-faced heifers not only looked alike but acted the same; it was as if they were two halves of the same animal, with the same personality and the same biological makeup.

They must have reached puberty about the same time, cycled the same time, and got bred about the same time. When they calved in 1979 with their first babies, both of them calved on the same night! We thought their babies might look alike, too, and they did, except one was red and the other one was black. Their calves were more like brother and sister than like cousins, however, and the two young mamas and their babies were one big family that year. They went out on summer range with the other cows and always stayed together. One twin would babysit both calves; then the other twin took her turn. The two calves were always together, with one mama or the other.

Melva and Marla were very aggressive cows and loved to bully other cattle. They loved each other as sisters and never fought, but they were mean to the others. They liked to fight, and it was humorous because they were smaller than most of the other cows. Together, however, they bossed the whole herd. Whenever one of them started a fight, the other twin immediately came to help, and between the two of them, they could whip any cow on the ranch.

Melva and Marla grown up. Together, these two young cows could bully any other cow
in the herd. In this photo, they have just succeeded in dominating the cow at the right, who is departing.

They enjoyed being together. Even in later years, when they were much older, you’d always find them together, no matter how big the pasture or how widely scattered the rest of the herd was.

These twin cows did everything together. Wherever one went, the other followed.

One fall after we weaned the calves and the cows were all up on a small mountain pasture at the upper end of our ranch, we were herding them up a steep draw to the top of the pasture. The best grass was high on the mountain, so we were taking the cows up there. Melva was with the main bunch of cows we were herding up from the meadow down by the gate. But Marla had strayed. She had somehow found a way through the fence and was in the adjacent pasture. She was on the wrong side of the fence when we started driving the herd up out of the meadow. She ran along the fence, very upset, trying to get back with her sister.

It took her awhile to find the bad spot in the fence — the loose wires where she’d crawled through earlier that day — so by the time she got through the fence and into the proper pasture, we’d already started the herd up the big draw and were halfway up the mountain. Looking down into the canyon, we could see Marla running up the main creek bottom, the wrong way. She was trying to catch up with the herd, sniffing the ground now and then to smell their tracks. Cows have an excellent sense of smell, and if one gets separated from the herd or left behind, she usually smells the ground to tell where the others have gone, tracking them with her nose.

But Marla missed the turn. She was hot on the trail of some cattle that had come down the creek to join our herd, and she was following their scent on up the creek, the wrong way. It looked like she was going to keep going up the creek and miss the herd. We were high above her, up the brushy draw in some trees, and she couldn’t see the herd.

At that point, however, her sister Melva either saw or sensed that her twin was going the wrong way. She let out one loud bawl. Marla must have heard or sensed her sister calling her. She stopped dead in her tracks, threw up her head, and spun around, then came charging across the creek at a gallop and up the draw behind us. Within 20 minutes she had caught up with the herd as we climbed the steep mountain.

Andrea and I were herding the cows on our horses, and we laughed about the very indignant look on Marla’s face as she caught up with us, huffing and puffing from her hurry up the hill. She was probably scolding all of us for going up the hill without her.

Over the years the twins each had 10 calves for their young owners. Andrea and Michael increased their herds, keeping a heifer calf, or trading a steer for a heifer from us. By the time they started high school they each had five cows.

The twins had a long and happy life on our ranch and helped our kids build up herds that would produce “calf money” that would eventually help pay for college. In the years since then, we’ve had a few more sets of twins. After Michael got married, he and his wife bought more cows and gradually built up a very large herd. They had numerous sets of twins — sometimes as many as six sets in one year. But Melva and Marla were special and memorable, being the first.

Heather Smith Thomas
 raises horses and cattle on her family ranch in Salmon, Idaho. She writes for numerous horse magazines and is the author of several books on horses and cattle farming, including Storey’s Guide to Raising HorsesStorey's Guide to Training HorsesStable SmartsThe Horse Conformation HandbookYour CalfGetting Started with Beef and Dairy CattleStorey's Guide to Raising Beef CattleEssential Guide to Calving, and The Cattle Health Handbook.

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