Thursday, January 21, 2010


If you've ever been to the Canadian maritimes (or visited the few branches out west) you may have been to an awesome ice cream parlor called Cows. They have wonderful flavours like Moo York Cheesecake, Cowrispy Crunch, or Smoores as well as funny cow t-shirts that play off pop culture, like Dairy Potter, twudder, and Guitar Heifer. If you're in a city that has a Cows, you should definitely make it a point to stop there. But, this post is not about the shop Cows, but rather the beast that brought it about.

My school originated as an agricultural college, and to this day houses the faculty of agricultural and environmental sciences, along with a couple of other disciplines. We still have a functional experimental and demonstration farm with 150 dairy cows, 1000 chickens, and over 200 pigs. Although I'm majoring in wildlife biology, this semester I'm taking a course in developmental biology and reproduction and as the practical part, we have to learn to artificially inseminate a cow (I'll tell you all about how that's done later) and then in pairs we're assigned a pregnant cow, and we're to follow her pregnancy, document all the events and physiological changes, and be present at and record the birth. This stuff is all right up my alley - I'm not particularly interested in livestock or domestic animals, but I am fascinated by reproductive health and I'd like to one day apply this to wild animals.

Anyway, to get to the point of this post - in order to be able to handle the cattle for AI, we all had to take a large animal handling course, which basically just involved learning some common sense aspects of barn safety and on the practical side, being able to halter a cow and lead her around the barn and tie her back in her stall. I was quite nervous since I've never been around cows before, and after doing the theory and learning about how easily perturbed they are, I was so worried about making the cow upset! But everything went smoothly, I took my cow (Celine, a Holstein) for a short walk and she was mostly cooperative. We also were able to watch the veterinarian check the cattle for whether or not they were entering estrus... which he does by inserting the ultrasound probe into the cow's rectum, which lies just above the reproductive tract. His equipment was super high-tech - it connects to a pair of goggles (like Geordi's visor!) where you can see the ultrasound.

We also got to visit the calves (sorry for the crappy pictures - I only had my cell phone on me!):

This breed is a Canadienne:

And we observed the milking - accompanied by the barn cats, which get handouts every so often!

I don't know much about cows, but I thought all the different breeds were so interesting! The black-and-white ones are Holsteins, and they are supposed to be quite nice. The pregnant cow we were assigned to follow is named Yonker, and she is a Holstein, but she was impregnated with sperm from an Ayeshire bull, which is red and white, so we might get a little red and white calf! (this isn't Yonker - I didn't get a picture of her, but she is a tank at 1500 lbs - this is just a random Ayeshire cow).

There were also Brown Swiss cows (like the one in the picture below). They are supposedly quite temperamental - we didn't handle any of them.

So, I'm super excited about all this barn stuff - I'm so happy I had the opportunity to learn about these animals and interact with them... an unusual experience for a city girl!


  1. Cool, I like cows. They have such pretty eyes.

  2. They seem like such docile creatures. They're pretty cute for being huge.

  3. What a neat class! I stayed on a farm in Ireland for a couple weeks, and awoke to the chorus of cows grazing each morning. It was odd to be sitting there pouring their milk on my cereal as they stared at me through the dining room window. I remember they had a bunch of "limousine" cows--not sure if that was just an Irish nickname?

  4. This sounds awesome. I love this stuff. I actually almost went to school for Wildlife Rehabilitation (alas...never went) and volunteered all summer for a wildlife rehabilitator: very interesting being up close with hawks, owls, fawns, etc. At the risk of sounding really dorky and/or romanticizing, I love the James Herriot books and your cow stories remind me of his experiences. Have you read him?

  5. I LOVED the James Herriot books - I read them even before I wanted to be a vet... maybe they were working in my subconscious? It's been a few years since I read them though, so thanks for the reminder, I'd like to read them again in the summer!!


... what are you thinking?