The Cow Spa is Open
Clipping the steers gets them ready for the warm weather. Scottish Highlanders, with double-thick coats, have no problem with cold weather but, if left on, suffer in the summer heat. Here Red, a 9-year-old Scottish Highlander steer, lost about 10 pounds of hair at his spa-day.
Clipping cows means warm weather is near. Cow clipping is an annual ritual at Miles Smith Farm. Scottish Highlander cattle grow thick, rich coats of hair to protect them from frigid winter weather. The lanolin in their hair repels water and snow better than an L.L. Bean slicker. The cattle can't remove their wooly coats when the weather warms up. That's when electric clippers come into play.
Cows in a Trance
By "cows," I mean "cattle" of all genders and conditions of sexual viability. It's not accurate, but it's how I think of them.
Most of our cows are halter-trained, so we can catch them, tether them, and start clipping. The clippers' vibration must be soothing because once the clipping begins, each cow will lower its head, close its eyes, and fall into a trance. Even cows who have not been handled will stand quietly in the squeeze chute, lulled into submission as we buzz away their winter covering.
There's another benefit of clipping. Each year we treat all of the cattle for parasites. Just as you apply flea and tick medicine on your dog or cat, we do the same for each cow. The dosage is more, but the concept is the same. Highlander hair is so thick some of the creepy insects survive the winter. After clipping, their home is gone, and so are they.
What is Hair Good For?
What do we do with the hair? Is it useful like wool? No, cow hair is more like human hair and does not weave or bind like wool. A few years ago, a farm friend collected some of the softer hair from our young cattle. She made a "poor man's blanket" by mixing the hair with wool. Cattle hair might keep the cow warm, but unlike wool, it is difficult to weave and has minimal insulating value when woven; it was a bad blanket and an exercise not worth repeating.
So we leave the hair for birds to collect as they build nests.
Not all of the cattle need clipping. Some older cows naturally shed and, with some vigorous brushing, we remove the loose hair. Cattle love the brushing.
Everyone Loves the Spa
Last year, when our friend Bill Ames stopped brushing our breeding bull, Blaine, the beast would reach around with his horns and nudge Bill as if to say, "C'mon, bro, keep brushing." Everyone loves spa day.
Unfortunately (or not), my allergies have removed me from barber duty. On clipping day, I'm in charge of bringing the cows to the clipping station, replacing dull clipper blades, and disposing of the clipped hair.
Please stop by the farm during store hours for a self-guided farm tour (there is a small fee for adults and children are free)
Stop by to see our "naked cows," and you might even meet a newborn calf. April is calving season, and we are expecting a dozen bundles of joy!