© 2022 Suzie O'Connell. All rights reserved.

Meet Daryl and Two Socks

Meet Daryl (right) and Two Socks (left), my spoiled, beloved cows and frequent stars of my newsletter.

 

If you had told me when I was younger that a pair of cows would become as dear to me as any cat or dog, I probably would've looked at you like you had three heads. Then I met these two darlings, bought for dirt cheap at the local livestock auction by the owner of the ranch where my husband and I lived and helped out for a time. Daryl is a Jersey and Two Socks is… well, we don't know what, but I suspect she's part Dexter and part some-other-dairy. In beef country, cows like these girls aren't worth much. They're smallish, in the mid-size range at about 48-50 inches tall at the whithers, and neither of them carries much meat. But you know what? Value is in the eye of the beholder, and sometimes a couple of "junk" cows are worth so, so much more than their price at the stockyard. The joy these two girls bring me alone is priceless.

 

Cows make great therapy animals. Just sayin'.

 

Daryl arrived first in October of 2020 as a weaned spring calf. She and I immediately hit it off. At that point, she wouldn't let anyone pet her, but she followed me around the pens as I worked or sought me out when I visited whatever pasture she was in at the time, curious about what I was doing. She ended up going to a feed lot for a few months over the winter, but when she came back in March, she remembered me and seemed to have missed me.

 

At some point, I got it in my head that it'd be fun to have a family milk cow. Think of all the fresh milk, the cream for butter, the homemade cheeses…

 

Since she was in a pen at the time, I started bringing her green grass as treats… and that was when she really started warming up to me. Within a couple weeks, she started rubbing her head on my leg and hip, a sign that she had claimed me as a member of her herd, and let me scratch up and down her neck. Even after she was turned out into the pasture, I could call her name and she'd come trotting over for loves.

 

That's when I asked my husband if we could buy her from the ranch's owner.

 

"How much did you pay for her?" the hubs asked his boss.

 

"I don't know. A hundred bucks?"

 

"I'll give you $140 for her right now."

 

The rancher laughed and said I did enough work around the ranch (for free) that I could "have the damned cow."

 

Around about this time—March or April 2021, I can't quite remember exactly when—Two Socks arrived, and she didn't cost much more than Daryl had. She and Daryl bonded right off. They were always together. The boss started joking about Two Socks being perfect for my little "herd". I was game for that. Two Socks might not be worth much in the eyes of beef ranchers, but because she was Daryl's buddy and already warming up to me in kind, she was perfect for me.

 

The first thing we had to find out in regards to Daryl becoming a family milk cow was whether or not she could be bred. You kinda need a calf to get the milk, ya know. So we had the vet check them both, and both were in tact and he saw no reasons why they couldn't be bred or that could cause pregnancy complications (i.e. tiny pelvic opening, malformed ovaries or uterus, etc.). With hope high and a green light from the vet, both girls were turned out with the bulls (all Angus boys) Memorial Day weekend 2021. And wouldn't you know it? Come preg-test time, they both came in bred! Due the first week of April 2022.

 

So then the real work began. I had been working with Daryl in the meantime and was to the point that I could touch her pretty much anywhere, but being able to lead her with a halter and rope would be useful, so we started halter training. And it went great. I kid you not, this cow was amazing. She wasn't fond of the halter, but she tolerated it and it only took a couple months before I could take her out of the pasture and lead her down our road. I also started getting her used to coming into the barn and associating the barn with good things (aka treats).

 

Looking back on this process from a year later, I am still so incredibly impressed with Daryl. She made milk-cow training so easy, and I think that has a lot to do with the fact that we trusted each other and loved each other.

 

In the meantime, because treats were involved with Daryl's halter training, Two Socks realized that, hey, if she were just as friendly and allowed pets, she could get treats, too. And that was that. Two Socks became a pet cow, to the point that I could call her from across the pasture and she would come running. Just like Daryl.

 

Fast forward to April 2, 2022. 9:00 PM at night. I was out walking through the bred cows, checking to see if there were any new calves or if anyone might be getting ready to calf. If you've never worked on a ranch, calving season is a lot of long days and nights and a lot of going through cows to make sure everyone is all right. We were already a month into calving, and every time I walked through the cows, I made it a point to stop and lavish Daryl and Two Socks with attention. Both girls were showing signs that they were close to calving. As in any-day-now close. So, as they were first-timers, I kept an extra close eye on them. That night, Two Socks gave me the sign that labor was in progress and calving was imminent: the kinked tail. Thirty minutes later… calf hooves and facing the right direction!

 

Usually it's best to leave them be and let them do what they do. But after two hours, there was no more progress, and while some ranchers will go longer before intervening, two hours was our "it's time to help" point, and with Two Socks, my instinct said not to wait. We ended up needing to pull her calf. Despite being bred to a "heifer bull" (a bull bred to throw smaller calves), her calf—a bull—was just a bit too big for her to push out on her own. So around 1:00 AM April 3, Two Socks Boy was born with assistance. And like his sweet mama, he had white on both his rear feet (though not full socks like her). So cute! And Two Socks was a great mom. Went right to licking on him despite the fact that we had to pull him (that can sometimes mess with a cow's instincts). Within 20 minutes, he was up and nursing. Happy and healthy.

 

10:00 PM that night, April 3, it was Daryl's turn. And for her, things went smoothly. Within an hour, her calf—a heifer we named Sunny—was out and she was licking away and getting the calf on her feet. The only trouble I had with Daryl was that her mothering instincts were so strong, that I ended up having to put her in the head catch in the barn and milk her to make sure her calf got the all important first drink of colostrum. After that, she settled enough to let the calf nurse, and all was well.

 

And so, my cow-milking adventure truly began.

 

Daryl continued to amaze me. For a first time freshener, she was incredible. Went right to the stanchion (aka the head catch stall because we didn't have a proper milking stanchion) and didn't kick once. The only problems were minor, as far as I'm concerned: she fidgeted a bit and she has one "blind" quarter (her rear left quarter never lost the keratin plug, so the quarter dried up and as far as I've read will likely never produce).

 

Y'all, when people say a good routine is the key to a successful milking experience, they mean it—with a consistent routine, she fidgeted less and less, and with her calf on her (I knew from the beginning that I wanted to "calf-share"—keep the calf on her), she was still producing a full gallon of milk a day for us in addition to what her calf took. That blind quarter? Psssh. Not a problem.

 

A couple weeks later, we had an emergency with another first-time heifer… a smallish, crippled cow who wasn't supposed to have been bred but who snuck in with the bulls (naughty girl). It was one of those situations no rancher ever wants to be in—faced with the choice of potentially killing the cow to try to save the calf or losing them both. Thankfully, the vet's suggestion  worked, and her tiny calf was born Easter morning with no other assistance from us. And I mean tiny. This little sweetie was 25, maybe 30 pounds when she was born. To give you an idea, our average birth weight was around 75 pounds. I was so relieved to see her come out—small but otherwise healthy and most definitely alive—that I sat down on the barn floor and cried. Talk about an Easter miracle. I bet you can guess what we named her.

 

I won't go into details, but Easter's mom's trauma wasn't over. She ended up with a prolapsed uterus (do yourself a favor and DO NOT look that up if you don't already know). The we helped the boss get her fixed up, and she healed fine, but though she tolerated her calf and would lay with her, she wouldn't let the calf nurse. Fortunately for Easter, we were able to milk the colostrum out of her mom and bottle feed her, just like I did with Daryl for Sunny, so she got off to a good start. And we had more milk from Daryl than we were using, so for the next month, I bottle fed Easter with real milk and kept both her and her mom with Daryl and Two Socks and their calves.

 

Around the time Easter turned one month old, she got smart. She figured out how to sneak in behind Sunny and nurse from Daryl. And that was the end of bottle feeding for us. Better for Easter to be raised by cows, less work for us. But that also meant no more fresh milk for us because I didn't want to tax Daryl. I love my cow and I want to keep her around and healthy and happy for a long time.

 

All spring and summer, Daryl and Two Socks (after she was turned back out with the bulls for a couple months) and their three calves enjoyed the fresh grass and their daily spoiling out in the pasture. Because I wanted to keep Daryl in a semi-routine so that I could go back to milking when Sunny and Easter were weaned, I brought their little herd a little taste of grain every day. Needless to say, Sunny and Easter and Two Socks Boy and the other Jersey's calf Tommy all became very sweet, friendly calves who enjoyed scratches as much as their mothers.

 

First rule of ranching: don't get attached. But I can't help it. So, yes, when it was time to sell the calves, it broke my heart… even though they sold well. Especially  Easter. She was such a special girl that I was hoping we'd find some way to keep her. Gorgeous confirmation, likely to stay on the smaller side, perfect size for out little herd, and the sweetest disposition. But that wasn't in the cards. Because sadly, our time on the ranch came to an unexpected end.

 

While out moving cows on the four-wheeler, my husband suffered a major knee in jury: grade 3 sprain with multiple tears. Possibly needing surgery. Minimum recovery time 2-3 months with the likelihood of needing to wear a brace for certain activities for the rest of his life. Even if, after a few weeks, he was able to put weight on the knee, he wouldn't be able to walk on uneven ground or climb into tractors for months without a brace. And just about everything on a ranch is uneven ground or climbing into tractors.

 

All things considered, I'm proud of the calves Daryl and Two Socks raised. Easter topped the market in her weight class—yes, that ittty bitty thought-we-were-gonna-lose-her calf brought in top-dollar. Even Sunny sold in the "good to choice" range, which is fantastic for a half-dairy calf in our area. Pardon the swearing, but… "junk cows" my ass. Love makes a difference, people.

 

I did find a home with a good friend for my ten favorite chickens, and another good friend's dad said we could keep Daryl and Two Socks out at his place. I've had to let Daryl "dry up" because I just didn't have time or money to drive the 30 miles each way to the ranch to milk her every day while we were moving, so no more fresh milk for a while. But Two Socks is bred and expected to calve in March or April, and I suspect Daryl is also bred with an August or September calf. So hopefully I'll have more adventures Daryl and Two Socks to share with you all in the future.

Updates on the girls:

 

November 4, 2022 – Well, crap. My plans to breed Daryl for her second calf via AI (artificial insemination) with Jersey semen are probably blown. While preg-testing the rest of the herd, we stashed her in the sorting alley along with a couple one-nut bulls that needed to get cut by the vet, thinking nothing of it because it was only for an hour or two, three at most… and apparently she was in a standing heat. And, oh yeah, she stood. Whoops. Good news, though: Two Socks is bred! Likely to calve in March or April (I didn't get a specific estimate from the vet, but he said she was right with the rest of the herd, which were all March and April).

 

December 2, 2022 – Daryl and Two Socks are still up on the ranch, but we're hoping to bring them down here this coming week. We're waiting on a couple things, but mostly we need to get their new home set up. We've purchased their water trough and de-icer but still need to get that in place and filled and buy some small bales of hay until we can pick up the big bales we've lined out for them. If you'd like, you can donate to "buy a bale of hay" right here. Daryl, Two Socks, and I would be most appreciative!

 

December 15, 2022 – The girls are still up at the ranch, but I now have all the pieces in place to bring them to their new digs… except the weather is not cooperating. Moving in winter sucks. I still need to set and fill the trough and double-check fences, and unload the hay, but the roads to their new pasture are questionable for a 2-wheel drive truck at the moment. A MASSIVE Thank you to everyone who bought a bale of hay—we just picked up 24 bales this morning, almost a full month's worth! I am so grateful and humbled by your generosity.