Thursday, May 28, 2015

Heather Smith Thomas — Notes from Sky Range Ranch: The Cows We Kept as Pets

Through many years of raising cattle, a few special characters stand out.

Rudolph started life in Andrea’s old crib
We’ve had many cows over the years, and even when we were calving 180 cows each spring, we named every new arrival. A few of those calves became special to us, and some of the cows we raised became family pets.

P.S., who was born to an elderly mama, was my first pet. During our third year on the ranch, my husband and I needed more cows but couldn’t afford to buy any. Instead, we leased some from a semi-retired rancher friend. The cows he sent us were of mixed ages, and one old cow in the group was very thin. Our friend told us she didn’t make much udder before she calved, and one day she surprised us with a new baby. She hadn’t looked pregnant or given any sign that she was ready to calve.

She didn’t make much milk after she calved either, and the poor little heifer was constantly nursing and always hungry. I fed her extra milk from a bottle that first day and again the second day, and named her P.S. because she seemed just a postscript in that old cow’s life. We fed the cow grain and some good hay and as she came to her milk a little better, we put the pair out in the field with the other cows. But a couple of days later little P.S. came crying to me when we were feeding hay, and I realized she still wasn’t getting enough nourishment from mom. We brought the calf back to the barnyard and I raised her on a bottle. After she was weaned we put her with our little group of replacement heifers and kept her as a cow. Fortunately she milked better than her old mother had, and raised good calves of her own.

P.S. never lost her love of human companionship. Whenever I walked out in the pasture she’d come to me to be petted. One spring when I had my young daughter Andrea with me, P.S. came up to us. Andrea started petting her and P.S. began licking Andrea with her big rough tongue. It was as scratchy as sandpaper! We decided that maybe P.S. knew that Andrea was my “calf” and just wanted to help!

Over the years, we had more pets as Andrea and our son Michael became attached to some of the “house calves” that started life in our kitchen. I’ve written about the unusual beginnings of special calves like Prue, Rudolph, and Boom Boom in some earlier Notes from Sky Range Ranch blog posts.
Boom Boom was a premature calf who spent several weeks in the house
We had an orphan calf named Suzette that Michael fed on a bottle, and after she grew up, she became one of his first cows.
Michael feeding Suzette
Andrea started building her own herd, starting with Marla. Melva and Marla were twins, and we gave one to each child. Andrea usually made pets of the heifers she kept or traded from us.

She also made pets of our milk cow Baby Doll’s daughters Christy, Liza, and Meggy. Almost all of Baby Doll’s calves were bulls, so the heifers she had were special. Liza (sired by Joe, one of our good crossbred beef bulls) was Baby Doll’s first heifer, born when Andrea was six years old.
Andrea with baby Liza
Andrea and Meggy, Baby Doll’s final calf, born when Baby Doll was 19 years old.
Liza grew up to be a nurse cow/milk cow, and Andrea was the one who got along with her best. When Liza wasn’t raising two or three calves, Andrea milked her. Liza’s daughters (sired by various beef bulls) joined our herd. Big Lizzie and Little Lizzie were her oldest daughters and became some of our best cows. Andrea traded steers for Liza’s calves Patches and Camero, both named by Andrea, so she could add them to her own growing herd. Andrea had been a part of their lives from the time they were born so they were well bonded with her.

Patches was an easy-going red cow with a white face and white patches, sired by one of our half-Simmental bulls. She was born on January 21, 1985 when Andrea was a freshman in high school. Patches was a good cow and had thirteen calves for Andrea.
Andrea and Patches: best buddies
Camero was Liza’s next heifer, born January 18, 1986.  She was one-quarter Simmental, an all-red heifer, and very smart. Camero was more high-strung than Patches, and though she got nervous when other people were around, with Andrea, she was a calm pet.

Camero was always independent, and in her later years became devious and didn’t stay with the herd when we were moving them on the range. We’d be bringing cattle home in the fall, one of us riding ahead and leading the herd (they’d follow, knowing they were coming home) and another rider coming behind. The cattle might be strung out for a mile, coming down the ridges and through the timber, and they’d all be there when we got down to the gate — except Camero! She and her calf would quietly slip off through the timber like elk and go their own way, and we’d have to go find them. Thanks to Camero’s bond with Andrea, she was manageable, but the same could not be said of her offspring. Camero raised 15 calves, all of them big and beautiful, but Andrea didn’t keep very many of her heifers because they were hot-headed and flighty.
Andrea and Camero, when Camero was 16 years old
Ruggles, born in 1986, was a colorful red-and-white heifer that Andrea chose for her own, trading a steer for her. Ruggles was part of the same family of cows, a daughter of Big Lizzie (Liza’s oldest daughter) and sired by the half Simmental bulls. Those bulls put more “color” in our herd than any others. Ruggles was a big, mellow cow and Andrea dearly loved her.
Andrea and Ruggles
We had many more pet cows in later years, but when our kids were young they enjoyed their own special cows.

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 HorsesStorey’s Guide to Raising Beef Cattle, Essential Guide to Calving, and The Cattle Health Handbook. She blogs at Her newest book, Horse Tales: True Stories from an Idaho Ranch, published by The Frontier Project, Inc., is now available.

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