Joshua's Farm
Lion and Babe On Their Way To A New Life

Aug. 24, 2013

After five months on staff in the dairy barn, Lion and Babe are on their way to a new life in Thomaston. Already three quarters the size of their mothers, they will be trying a yolk on for size. The milking shorthorn breed is known as a dual purpose breed that played an important role in the clearing of New England by determined pioneers. Unlike other bull calves, these boys are highly valued for their meat and power.

The calves serve as alternate milkers with free access during the day to the udder until their mothers milk production begins to drop off a bit at five to six months, and the cows can be milked once a day. Having the young calves at their side reduces the incidence of mastitis (infection), and makes cow and calf healthier and happier. Milk volume is reduced for the tank, but there are no W2 forms to fill out.

Shorthorn and Durham bulls- called steers when their testicles are removed- are raised primarily for their carcasses, a difficult destiny for a small herd where attachments form. In Vermont and New Hampshire where the first two cows here were born (Daisy and Thyme) the teamsters come down from Maine to pick up every bull calf they can find for up to $200 each. Few Jersey, Holstein, Guernsey and Swiss bull calves aren't picked for ox teams. They can't compare with the durham and shorthorn's strength, versatility, and some would say intelligence. Many people ask why a bull isn't kept. The cows are inseminated with a straw inserted by a skilled technician into the cow, allowing a choice of bulls with various qualities (cream, volume, size) . It's up to the herdsman to know when the six hour window of fertility exists every 21 days. Though the shorthorn breed is easily regarded as the most docile, having an intact bull is dangerous and unpredictable as they become territorial about their cows. More than a few farmers have been killed by bulls they raised by hand.

Babe, you will remember, survived the odds stacked against him on a snowy week in March when Thyme went down with a pinched nerve as Babe approached the birth canal. His arrival was induced by the herdsman, and he was carried into the barn where Thyme's will to live was apparent in the fixed stare at her tiny Babe off in the corner. The bond is very close between cow and calf- though the two are separated at birth in commercial dairies to maintain production.

While Babe is shy, Lion is more curious. With little training, Lion will visit to say hello, rather than run. But both like to run. Lion, who shares Babe's sire, was born six days before his brother to Daisy. Their horns are beginning to form and the boys are growing fast on milk.

When the time came to decide, and with money short, their destiny was determined to be the slaughterhouse. Called "baby beef" they would each fetch at least $700 with beef and veal prices high thanks to a drought and high grain prices in the midwest.

But the herdsman agreed with a little boy who wrote a poem about Lion, that he should be flyin instead. And how often would it happen that two bulls would be born so close to eachother and live in such synchronization as to be eachother's shadow.

So with an $800 loss at hand, Lew Warner came up from Thomaston to look the boys over. Silent for a while, this experienced teamster finally said "you have nice cows" and he offered $500 for the pair. And off they went to his Thomaston farm where we hear a month later they are doing well with their lessons. Perhaps next year we can cheer them on at the Goshen Fair.

Ideally, young bulls should begin training as newborns, but the fact that they were born the same week and to the same sire and have spent their young lives together are assets despite the absence of time consuming lessons in halter and yolk work. Lew is among the best of the old time teamsters and knows how to communicate with them. There is no guarantee they will submit. Some bulls, like some people, would rather just sit than work and aren't suited for hard work.

It's up to them now.