Self-reliance and sustainability in the 21st century.
I can hear it now: “What the devil? Angus? They are not milk cows!” Well, it all got started when the neighbor purchased four, what he was led to believe were, Black Angus calves from someone in a valley some distance from us. After he got them home and observing them over the next couple weeks, it became apparent that they were, in fact, a cross of some variety. In disgust, he offered them to us for what he paid for them: $20.00 apiece.
Anxious to get our “herd” started, being new to the country life, we bought two and some hay and put up a loafing shed. We suspected they were a dairy cross, so we named them Buttermilk and Brownie. As they grew, we handfed them to make handling easier as we had no squeeze chutes in which to confine them. Over the next 14 months they became big pets, begging for carrots or apples as we moved through the field changing irrigation pipes and pulling noxious weeds; and coming on a dead run if you were working in the garden where carrots or pea vines lived, or they’d be right beside us if we were headed toward the grain barrels.
The Milking Angus is Born
At about 2 years of age, we had them bred to the neighbor’s Hereford bull. The pregnancies progressed without incident and soon they delivered two frisky little calves. But the udders on these two cows were huge! They clearly had more milk than the calves could handle. Once the calves devoured the colostrum (first milk), I decided to see if the cow named Brownie could be trained to allow milking. She was skittish at first but soon tolerated it without incident, especially when her stanchion was filled with molasses-flavored oats. Thus The Milking Angus was born. Her milk was so rich it formed about 6 inches of cream on the top of a gallon jug. Made us suspect Jersey in her blood lines.
Of course, after the neighbors knew what we were doing, they fell down in gales of riotous laughter. That is until they saw and tasted the milk. Then they became steady customers. Buttermilk had white on her underbelly so we were thinking Holstein with her. Her milk was larger in volume but contained less cream. An old-time rancher told us that he always left the calf with the cow until he wanted a milking, then separated them for 12 hrs and took his milking. It worked, too, though it did get a little noisy as the calves objected mightily.
‘Buttermilk’ Finds a New Home
We took to birthing the calves in the early fall, as we felt the savings on one winter’s hay was evident before they were butchered at two years of age. After a couple years, we decided we had too many mouths to feed on our small acreage, so we sold Buttermilk to some friends. We told them we didn’t have a loading chute so whoever picked up the calves would need a ramp to load her.
A couple cowboys arrived to pick up Buttermilk, only to find we had no chute and they had no ramp. They were going to leave and try to come back with another truck. Wait, we said, this can be done with a carrot. They, too, fell down in gales of laughter. I am not sure what was so funny, but they quit laughing as Buttermilk followed me and a bag of carrots up a hastily made ramp of two 2’ x 6’ boards with a few 2’x 4’ cross pieces nailed to keep her from slipping, into the back of their two ton 4’ high truck bed. She did love carrots, and the cowboys thought the local stockyard should know about us.
Amazing Cow Stories
Over time, Brownie became a neighborhood icon, folks watching as she approached calving or when she was in another field having a fit because a calf was being butchered. The man who did our field killing told us he had never seen a cow like her. She could see or hear his truck about 3/4th of a mile away, and she would meet him at the corner of our property that was ringed by the road, and run alongside the truck, bellowing at him constantly until he disappeared around the bend on the way to someone else’s place. We always removed her when we were butchering, but she would run right to the spot after the truck was gone and stamp on the ground and snort. It was almost enough to get you to quit eating meat.
One year, we were gone at calving time, and a neighbor on the way to work spotted the new calf. He returned home to grab some Bocee and a banding gun. After he had doctored and banded our little newborn boy, he trotted off to work. About 30 minutes later, another neighbor and his wife stopped by having noticed the newborn calf. A shot of Bocee was administered and when he turned the calf over to band it, he uttered, “well I’ll be, this puppy was born banded.” Actually, his language was a little more colorful than that but you get the idea.
One time, Brownie developed a deep split in her hoof and it badly needed trimming and someone skilled to look at it. I called a horse shoer who would have all the tools and some knowledge of this kind of injury. But when he learned we did not have a chute, he would have nothing to do with it.
We called a new young vet, asking him if he would at least examine her. He reluctantly agreed and after the exam agreed it needed trimming and cleaning. But without a chute he was not sure. Carrots, I said, this will work. Dubious, but willing to give it a go, he retrieved his equipment and I retrieved a bucket full of carrots and molasses flavored oats. Then I tied her to a fence post, and offered her the goodies while picking up her foot. He proceeded to trim, file, and clean up this nasty little hoof injury without so much as a twitch. He became the family vet and pretty enamored with Brownie, our Milking Angus.
Remembering a Remarkable Cow
A few years later I found her newly calved and down on the ground, awake but in deep shock and covered with frost. I grabbed some sleeping bags and covered her up while we put in an emergency call for the vet, assuming calcium or magnesium issues since she had just delivered. He arrived with the magic IV solution, but by the time he got there so had all the neighbors, so this crowd of onlookers were pretty concerned. She did not get up after the first bottle was administered, and it took a second. By now he had broken into a big-time sweat. After she got on her feet, we asked if he was ok. “Yes,” he said, “there was just a lot of pressure treating the neighborhood Milking Angus.”
In 17 years, Brownie produced 15 calves, and only one was lost due to severe birth defects. She was a sweet little mama, and never lost her pet-like qualities with us, or the kids and grandkids. In her 17th year, she broke an ankle, and was in a great deal of pain so it was clear the era of Brownie The Milking Angus was over. But pictures still grace our albums, including the pictures of her first calving. We were so excited, we sat on a nearby rock pile to record the event. In typical behavior, she was more interested in the possibility that we might have brought a carrot to the event.
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