Raising bottle dairy steers is not for the faint of heart. As purchasable animals, they rival only goldfish in price and ability to keel over. I’ve seen healthy day-old Jersey calves sell for less than five dollars at the sale barn. I’ve never seen a day-old Jersey bring more than fifty dollars, which is top of the market and still a reasonable value, considering some goldfish can sell for hundreds of dollars per piece. I guess koi is good eating, probably best fried with hushpuppies.
Dairy breeds, however, produce a bony carcass, so most of the bigtime cattlemen don’t want anything to do with a Holstein steer, and they wouldn’t be caught dead with a puny Jersey steer on their farm. “There is more meat on a big deer,” they might say. These days cattlemen just want big beefy angus cows. This may seem rather discriminatory, but it works out in favor of some dairy steers. Many are destined for hobby farms where they live a life of leisure and get a lot of entertainment out of watching people play veterinarian. I think it’s a well-known fact among dairy steers that the way to achieve pet status on a hobby farm is to get as close to death as possible without dying and then let the farmer nurse them back to health.
We’ve raised a lot of bottle calves over the years. The ones we remember the most are the ones we nearly lost and somehow doctored back to the living. Oftentimes, they’re a little stunted afterwards, which works to their advantage cause they last longer on the farm. My philosophy with raising dairy steers is most of the work is upfront, so even if it takes longer to feed them out, it’s still worth it to recoup the time spent bottle-feeding and doctoring. We grow our own grain and run it through the old hammermill, so we don’t really have a shortage of feed.
Eventually, whenever we take the calves to the sale barn, the handlers always comment on how tame the steers are. “They’re just big pets,” I respond.
Then I walk the catwalk one last time. Though the paycheck is nice, I still hate to see them go.
Reason 1: You can go outside without fear of reprisal by the law. In fact, last week I got a visit from the law, blue lights flashing, actually requesting my presence outdoors, not deterring it–the reason being the cows were in the front yard eating shrubbery. The deputies spotted them and thought they looked out of place. Little did they know, I’ve pretty much got the cows trained to go straight for the shrubbery when I forget to close a gate. But the deputies were very nice, although Officer Beam needs to work on studying the cow wrangling section of the police manual, particularly the part about de-escalating the situation and not running wildly and flapping at bovines.
Reason 2: You can go outside in your underwear. Who needs pants when you’re holding a microwavable tray of scalding-hot bacon grease. One of my Covid-19 quarantine resolutions is to eat more bacon at breakfast. Of course, eating more bacon means I have to clean the bacon tray more often. I’ve found the fastest way to do this is to dump the grease before it cools and congeals and rinse the tray. I used to do this process in the sink before my wife caught on when the sink clogged up. Now, after negotiations with her, I’m contractually obligated to dump the grease outside and rinse the tray with a water hose, but I held my ground on wearing pants before breakfast.
Reason 3: Rural looters aren’t the smartest. I mean, if I was a beginning criminal, I wouldn’t pick an area that has more firepower stocked up than a semi-developed country. A few days ago, a local teenager decided he would spend his extra leisure time in quarantine by practicing thievery. He decided to steal a neighbor’s lawn mower at midnight. His getaway plan was to ride the lawn mower down the road. A rock solid plan, except for the fact that the owner heard him crank up and had plenty of time to handpick a weapon from his arsenal for just such an occasion. He picked such a high-powered piece that the gunshot was heard across the countryside, downed a satellite, and produced the desired effect of scaring the boy senseless and sending him fleeing into the woods. Nobody knows for sure who the boy was, but obviously he wasn’t very bright if he was stealing a run-off-the-mill riding mower instead of a zero-turn.
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