The Hancock-Henderson Quill, Inc.


Farm Family Insights by Natalie Dowell Schmitt

"The Perfect Cow"

September 24, 2008 Column

After reading last week’s article, Mark wanted me to add a post script.

He is still trying to breed the “perfect” cow, but has some different criteria than what the bull books are touting.

He is looking for a cow that will milk 30,000 pounds, even with feed from the bottom of the silo. She must be immune to mastitis, ketosis, milk fever and never have DA’s.

Her temperament should allow you to pick up her foot and do some trim work without kicking you across the barn.

Reproductively, she should settle by the second service, in case you select the wrong bull the first time. She will always have heifer calves without sexed semen.

Of course the top requirement would be once a day milking. We will keep working to find the right combination of genetics for this perfect cow. I think we have a few years to go.

Meanwhile, Michael had to say goodbye to his first show calf this week. He knew her days were numbered and made a point to take pictures of her for his photography class. As he was staring out the window in Spanish class, he noticed our truck and trailer heading west through town. He knew that could mean only one thing…a one way trip for a cow.

He focused on the trailer to see who was heading to the packing plant. He held his breath, but knew the day had come for Felt to be on board for one last trip.

Felt was Michael’s first state fair calf. Kind of like a first love. Felt and Michael grew up together in those awkward pre-teen years. They helped each other step out into new arenas. They won a couple of showmanship classes and won Net Merit Championship at the state fair his first year there.

They were quite a pair. Michael in his bright show whites leading a sleek long legged solid black calf around the ring.

He was short, she was tall. He had a buzz haircut and she had a partial heart on her head. They really stood out.

Now you would think that a show calf has a pretty easy life, unless you’re accident prone like Felt. It is truly a miracle that she made it into the milking barn. When she was in heat as a yearling, she was riding another heifer around in the lot.

Now, this is a very big cemented lot with a green arrow feed wagon parked in the middle. The tongue of the wagon was fastened up off the ground. The odds of something getting their leg caught in there were lower than winning the lottery.

Felt should have bought a ticket that day. Sure enough, she slipped off the other heifer and caught her front leg in the hitch of the wagon.

Luckily she did it just before feeding time and we found her hanging there still alive. She tore the ligaments in her leg and really wrenched her knee. She hobbled around for quite awhile in a pen all by herself, but Michael was there everyday to rub her head and give her hugHer leg healed up and we were able to breed her.

Her pregnancy was through the winter months and we didn’t give her another thought. Until she slipped on a small pond of ice and went down. Once again she was rescued and moved into a pen all by herself. She recovered and delivered a healthy calf.

You would think that by now, she would have run out of accidents. No, she found a few more. She never really adjusted well to a stall because of the injury to her front leg.

She would always get up so stupid. We couldn’t make her a switch cow because she could barely walk across the yard in the winter months. She would tender-foot-it on the frozen ground scared to wipe out again. Luckily she bred back right away and we dried her up early.

As she walked on the pastures this past spring, she loosened up and started to heal. She delivered a healthy heifer calf, but once again had trouble moving.

We put her out in a dirt lot and milked her in the back of the barn. This was great during the summer months, but now as fall approaches and field work and football games take up more time, the extra time to milk Felt was coming to an end. Felt may not have been the “perfect” cow, but she was the perfect heifer for a young boy growing up.

By the way, her heifer calf was born on Valentine’s Day and named “Sweetheart”. Let’s just hope that being accident prone is not heritable.


As their four children pursue dairy careers off the family farm, Natalie and Mark are starting a new adventure of milking registered Holsteins just because they like good cows on their farm north of Rice, Minnesota.