When a Cow Gets Old
Virginia, pictured here with her 2022 calf, is one of Miles Smith Farm's elderly pregnant cows. She gets special care as we await the birth of her 2023 calf. Each delivery is a miracle, and Virginia has provided many miracles over the years.
Three cows in the Miles Smith Farm herd are over ten years old and considered elderly in the cow world. I recently purchased two of them, U'lua, and Gina, when their owners decided to sell their herd. U'lua is registered with the American Highland Cattle Association, and Gina is registered with the Heartland Highland Cattle Association. Registrations outline a cow's parentage, which is how I learned that U'lua is the grand dame (grandmother) of my breeding bull, Ferdinand.
Cattle registrations are essential, and I preach to other farmers the value of registering their Scottish Highlanders. It enables owners and buyers to know the lineage of their cattle. Also, instead of guessing a cow's age, her birthdate is documented. It's the best way to avoid inbreeding, thus improving the nationwide quality of Highland cattle..
Elder Cow Care
My elderly cattle are doing fine but need special care. They might be old, but they are not suited for a quiet life in a nursing home. Besides, all three gals are pregnant.
I am doing everything I can to make their cow lives comfortable. That means the two oldest are pastured with young cattle, so aggressive cattle in their prime do not push them away from the hay. It means they get extra rations of alfalfa cubes. They have access to shelter, and we try to keep their pasture mud-free, a tough job in this warm and wet weather.
The ground is typically frozen by now, with mud long ago turned to solid footing but not this year. This year the mud keeps on giving. And when it does freeze, the ridges and lumps make walking difficult.
To keep their paddock free of mud and frozen ridges, we'll dispense extra hay, which often is trampled under hooves, wasted, and not fit to eat. This wasted hay creates a springy mat of soft footing for tender elderly cow toes and a soft padded spot to lie down. Even so, U'lua got a severe case of foot rot in her cloven hooves, an affliction that any aged cow can contract. With the aid of penicillin, the foot is healing, but it might take a few weeks until she stops limping.
Of course, all the gals have thick coats I brush as they munch on their extra rations. These girls are old but have yet to be over the hill. I'll pamper them and feed them extra as we wait for the joyous day when each gives birth, and I can register their beautiful calves and welcome them into the world.