I had no training in naming cows. I couldn’t imagine how people came up with things like Sir Campbell-Martin’s Phoenix or O’Reilly’s Shangri-la – the sort of things I found in herd book listings.
Around five years ago, my wife Betsey and I arranged to buy our first Dexter cow, and got a calf thrown in. I had no training in naming cows. I couldn’t imagine how people came up with things like Sir Campbell-Martin’s Phoenix or O’Reilly’s Shangri-la – the sort of things I found in herd book listings. We did know that dairy farmers often had names for at least some of their milking cows. One of the most common was Betsy, which often accompanied an old Holstein-Frisian with a dragging undercarriage. Another was Dolly, after Dolly Parton – and not for her voice.
We thought something more common, but not embarrassing, would be good. Something generic. Since we already had a cat named Cat and a rooster named Rooster, our dun cow became Cow. And the calf, a lovely heifer, became – after we saw how she followed her mother around – Patty, as in cow patty.
In the past we boarded a bull named McMeyer. He was a Scottish Highland, owned by Steffen Meyer. McMeyer returned home after completing his duties. His daughter we named Andere, the German word for “the other one,” or “another.”
McMeyer was gone and we needed a bull, a Dexter bull. Because I was visiting my daughter in Calgary, a short jaunt brought us to Applejack Ranch in Bashaw, where I decided to buy two bull calves. One was dun so we named him Done Well. He was soon spoken for by two friends who needed beef to eat. The other, the one we kept, was a black bull. Pondering long and hard over his primary task in life, we named him Sperman. He was fertile.
Time goes on. We had a calf born on our neighbour Mrs. Meyer’s birthday, so we wanted to name the cow Andrea after her. It was a bull calf (and soon a steer), however, so we named him Andreas. We also were blessed with a Dexter calf with white markings which we named Witvoet, Dutch for “white foot.” After all, Bert Witvoet was the editor of Christian Courier when I started my journalistic efforts. Our Witvoet was neither editor nor writer but a very lovely little heifer.
Just recently we got our new bull calf. He was a nine-month-old stripling, soon to become (if his body structure proved accurate) a wide-headed, muscly, sex-mad bull. We bought him from Cathy H., who had named him Arnold. Well, “Arnold?" What a plebeian name! She had other animals with great names like Lester the Molester and Ungebunden, but Arnold? All we could think of was Arnold Schwarzenegger. So we decided to name him Mini-Schwartz, Schwartz meaning “black” in German, which helped the complexity of the name.
Brains or brawn?
As soon as Schwartzie got off the trailer we realized that we could have thought a while longer and named him Escape Artist, Fence Ducker, Slinker or Stinker. I think he was also known as Little Scheiss (to put it in German) back at Cathy’s house for his ability to go where he wanted, including stomping through the tulips, no matter the restraints. He wiggled under an 18" bottom, 2 X 6" wood gate, went through four-strand barbed wire fence without injury, and ducked under hot wires. Guile, not strength seemed the central skill of our Schwartzie.
Schwartzie would go through a fence, then come back slowly and smell the hot wire to be rewarded with a Crack! and a jump backward. Doing this over and over showed me, a former teacher, that he had a learning disability. You’ve heard of students who can only learn by doing, not by reading or cognitive analysis? Schwartzie was obviously the opposite. So I sat down and gave him a lecture. He refused to take notes but began to get the point.
The test came when he was in a new pasture with only electric fence. Schwartzie passed his test with flying colours. No escapes at all. When I called the cows into the yard for their evening grain, Schwartzie walked towards me in his proper place in line: last. Almost there, and – just for old times’ sake, I guess – he walked through a barbed wire fence and then back without getting snagged. I rewarded him with positive reinforcement of the grain variety.