Monday, March 19, 2012

Breeding Buttercup - Part 1

Meet Buttercup. She is our 2 year old Jersey heifer. A heifer is a young female cow that has not yet had a calf.   In order for a cow to produce milk, cream and  butter she has to have a calf  - the term is "freshen", so yesterday we took her to be bred for the first time.  To breed your cow each year you have three choices: maintain a bull on your farm, bring your cow to  neighboring bull, or have her artificially inseminated. We chose the latter. Fortunately, a friend that we buy hay from has a son who has been through AI school and  he agreed to board Buttercup at his farm for the procedure.

Just getting her into the trailer was an exercise in itself. You see, we made the mistake of not halter training her when she was a calf so we had no way to lead her in. We won't make that mistake again! And though she is a very friendly, bottle raised family cow, she had never been in a trailer before and was quite leery.

Add to that a herd of goats that also wanted to eat the grain we were coaxing Buttercup in with...
Eventually we did get her into the trailer.

This is Ten. She is a half Limousine, half Angus cow. She is the dominant, lead cow on the Beauchamp farm and she will be Buttercup's companion until bred.

Here are some things I've learned about breeding cows:
  * A cow goes into heat (estrus) about every 18-24 days year round.
  * There is an 18 hour window in which a cow can be bred. This is called "standing estrus"
  * Many cows will bellow and bawl frequently.
Poor Buttercup "moos" pitifully all day long!
  * During estrus a cow will become restless and will begin mounting and being mounted by other cows.

I was completely unaware of this phenomenon until one day while I was working in the barn, not paying any attention to Buttercup, she came up behind me and face planted me in the dirt. I wasn't hurt, just a little shaken, and in her behalf, she was very gentle - for an 800 pound heifer! It was actually quite graceful - she literally stood up on her hind two legs and gently put her front two hooves on my shoulders. I was caught completely off guard and off balance and went down. I now know to always keep a close eye on her.

This is why Buttercup will have Ten as a pasture mate.  When Buttercup goes into estrus, Ten will recognize this and begin to try to mount her. When Buttercup willingly "stands" to be mounted without walking away or turning and butting, this is called "standing estrus" and it is now time for her to be bred or inseminated.

When we left the Beauchamp farm yesterday Buttercup was too busy eying the other cows to notice. She didn't even say goodbye.

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