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Blue Hands and Aching Bones

May 29, 2022

Airbnb guest Jerry Martin, gave Scottish Highlander cow, Nora, a shampoo and rinse at the cow wash. Soon Nora and her best cow-friend, Mabel, will travel to a new owner in Kentucky.

I'm typing this with blue hands. They are not the shade of blue they turn while unwrapping enormous bales of hay in the dead of winter. They are stained by a medicine called Blu-Kote, a souvenir of the tough day I just spent with my cattle.

We started with a 21st-century version of a spring roundup. Husband Bruce, farmhands Joe and David, and Airbnb guest Jerry helped coax the herd from an eight-acre pasture into a small pen. Then we convinced three or four at a time to go into an even smaller holding pen. From there we herded each cow or calf into the squeeze chute, a large metal contraption that securely holds the bovine and keeps workers safe. A confined cow can try to swing her horns or kick, but she'll only bash the metal bars or hit the steel door – not tender skin or delicate human hands.

Ear Bling

While a cow is in the chute, the team attached an ID tag to her ear or swapped out an old ear tag for a newer, more legible one. We also checked the inside of each creature's left ear, where its number and year of birth are tattooed. New ink was applied if the tattoo was missing or hard to read. Name tags sometimes come out, but a tattoo is forever. Cows were not pleased about getting ear-bling and a tattoo, so we ended each session with vigorous brushing. The rough brushing was like a spa treatment for the cow. It simulated the mutual grooming that cattle do with their sandpapery tongues and was their reward for compliance.

Before setting them loose, we poured a dose of bug spray on each animal. This stuff lasts for about five weeks and will deter pesky flies, ticks, and other flying insects.

Next came the sorting. The pregnant group went to one field. The open (not pregnant) cows, some with calves, into another pasture with Ferdie the bull. The third group stayed in the small pen, waiting to go to a lush, green Canterbury pasture. Each year Charles Laughlin welcomes our cattle to graze in his well-fenced fields. Two steers, Cooper and Galen, are already there, and four cows with calves will join them soon.

After the sorting, Jerry clipped Rudy, a shaggy 6-month-old steer. Rudy's recent castration wasn't healing, so we kept him out for a house call by Veterinarian Lauren Polanik.

Blue Fingers

Dr. Polanik arrived and confirmed that Rudy and Gilligan, another castrated steer, were infected. After giving each of them a shot of penicillin, I sprayed their castration sites with Blu-Kote. It helps healing and keeps flies away. During the application, the sprayer leaked, which is why my hands are blue. No flies on me this morning.

While at the farm, the vet checked a limping cow (she's fine) and provided health certificates for Nora and Mabel, who are traveling to a new owner in Kentucky later in the week. Jerry gave Nora and Mabel a shampoo at the cow-wash station to make them look good for their new owner. Afterward, Jerry still had the energy to clip Gilligan's shaggy coat.

We now have two sparkling clean cows, and every cow and calf is tagged, tattooed, brushed, and bug sprayed – except for one little untagged fellow. (How did we miss him?) He got separated from his mother, so for now, he's hanging out with the "baby-sitter" cow, Daisy. Later today, I'll find his mom and reunite the pair. 

At age 70, hard work wears me out, so I'm headed to a deep relaxing massage by therapist Sue Poulin, LMT in Concord. Reward works for cattle. Why not for me?


Carole Soule

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