naming cows

Naming cows shakespeare’s famous quote, ‘What’s in a name? That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet,’ from ‘Romeo and Juliet,’ certainly rings true. Perhaps his musings on names originated from his family’s farm in Stratford-upon-Avon ? During a visit to his boyhood home, I strolled through the barnyard where the Shakespeare cows, chickens, and pigs once roamed. Did the Bard himself struggle with identifying bovines ? Did he grapple with distinguishing between Bessie, the milk-pail kicker, and Jenny, the feisty milker, or was it the other way around ?

Are Cows Just Numbers ?

Every Irish bovine is uniquely identified by a tag number, sporting bright yellow tags in each ear. Accompanying this identification is a bovine passport, detailing parentage, birthdate, breed, and gender—essential for sales or processing. Once, cows bore names like Blossom or Buttercup, but now, tagged by number, do they still receive personal names .

Do you name your cows? I’m sometimes asked. With a pedigree herd, each cow boasts an individual pedigree name, though not all are committed to memory. Brian, however, knows all their tag numbers. While some farmers opt for freeze branding, we only did so for our eldest cows. God help me if I ever tackle milk recording alone—I only know about 20% of the numbers. In many ways, their numbers serve as their names, their unique identifiers. We do give names to select calves, usually our favorites or those with distinctive traits—whether it’s their coloring or personality that sets them apart. The first few calves of the season always receive names, as do the last ones naming cows.

naming cows

A Rose By Any Other Name and all that

Calves often earn names inspired by their hues or markings. Take Pierrot, for instance—no mystery as to why he got his name. While some opt not to name male calves destined for the factory by 16 or 22 months, those with standout personalities still earn monikers, whether it’s ‘you greedy sod’ or something like ‘Clive’ or ‘Barry.’

One of my favorites is Red Clover, admired for her crimson coat. As a calf, she battled cryptosporidium, teetering on the brink of death. I spent a night tirelessly caring for her alongside two other calves, administering 600ml of liquid every 90 minutes with a 60ml syringe. Miraculously, she pulled through, her gentle nature shining through. Her pedigree name, Clover, coupled with her coloring, earned her the moniker ‘Red Clover.’ Kate wasn’t thrilled—she joked it made her sound like cheese! Not all names are as flattering. Take ‘the camel,’ bestowed upon a cow with less-than-ideal conformation—tall, lanky, and predominantly white. Despite it all, she’s cherished naming cows.

Why Becky is Special

Becky holds a special place in my heart, though I’m not sure she appreciates it. From her days as a newborn calf, she stood out—small and struggling to feed among her penmates. Back then, we lacked space, so she shared a pen with six others, a situation I’d handle differently now, opting for more individualized care. While her peers eagerly lapped up milk from the feeder, I patiently bottle-fed Becky, her stubbornness and feistiness apparent from the start. But once she embraced the taste of milk, there was no stopping her. She quickly caught up with her larger companions, proving her resilience.

At 15 months, when it was time to consider selling some heifers, Becky’s size raised doubts. Yet, her potential buyer overlooked her, citing her stature. So, we kept her, a decision validated when she effortlessly conceived twins. Even in the milking parlor, she’s a character, refusing to adhere to typical behavior, opting to relieve boredom by making a mess.

Despite her quirks, Becky isn’t immune to challenges like mastitis, but she bounced back, earning a reprieve. She may test our patience, but there’s a bond between us—Brian even likens our personalities.

Naming cows adds another layer of attachment, making decisions like selling or culling tougher. Rua, for instance, faces culling due to infertility, despite her spirited nature. Her departure will leave a void, a reminder of the complexities of farming life.

naming cows

Names I Like

Mary Conly sent 72 new calves, including Lexington and Otis. The name Lexington resonates with historical significance—the site of the first shot of the Revolutionary War. Otis carries a similar charm, evoking memories of that era.

In keeping with the military theme, a high school friend proposed Skylark, associated with Confederate General J.E.B. Stuart’s horse, a Buick model, and a song by Ella Fitzgerald.

To balance the scales, I’ve included Kangaroo, honoring General Ulysses Grant’s mount. Despite lacking pouches, I’ll reserve this name for a spirited calf known for its energetic hops.

Spazzolino, suggested by my friend Betsy, brings Italian flair to the mix, even if the translation to “teethbrush” might be more apt. I envision Spazzolino adding a touch of European elegance to our morning routines—perhaps accompanied by a side of espresso with alfalfa pellets ?

naming cows

More Names

Leslie Cooley’s top picks included Bullwinkle, fitting for a potential breeding bull, and Kermit, a nod to a beloved character sure to resonate with a new generation. Then there’s Waldo, a name that promises a playful mystery.

Mary Pelkey’s suggestions added musical and Hollywood flair. Guthrie, inspired by Woody, suits a calf with a melodic moo, while Bogey, paying homage to Humphrey Bogart, befits one with star quality.

And let’s not forget Preston’s contribution: Festus, a name rooted in the Western classic “Gunsmoke,” brings a solid, rugged charm to the lineup.

To everyone who shared these delightful monikers and more, thank you! Naming these calves has been a joyous endeavor. Stay tuned as the newest additions arrive, ready to meet you and test out their given names. Who knows? Perhaps you’ll find yourself asking, “Where’s Waldo ?

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