Bovine Beauties!

The post below is written by Claire Stanley, a dairy farmer who grew up on Paul-Lin Dairy Farm in East Fairfield, Vermont. Before you read the post, get acquainted with Claire by taking your own virtual tour of her family’s dairy farm. Enjoy!

Bovine Beauties

By: Claire Stanley

There are many reasons that I love to farm, but the primary one is those bovine beauties that we get to work with every day.  On dairy farms, the cows are the ‘moo-lah’ makers, in that they produce the milk that creates a farmer’s income and, in fact, you could easily call them our ‘bosses’.  Without them, there’s not much to get up for in the morning, so it’s pretty safe to say that any farmer you talk to will, at some point, mention his/her love of our cloven counterparts.  I have a special place in my heart for every cow I have worked with (or for…), each as individuals who have depended on my family and I for sustenance and, in return, provide us with the high quality, deliciously pure milk that we can then market.  We are essentially a team in a revolving circle of give and take; we provide their food and they provide the milk that creates the income we use to purchase their food.

Much like there are many diverse breeds of dogs, there are five different breeds of dairy cows; can you name them?  Let’s start with the big, black and white spotted ones; Holsteins.  For many of you, these are the ones you think of when someone mentions ‘cow’, and for good reason as they make up about 90% of the US dairy population.

This is a Holstein cow.

Next, we have the petite brown Jersey, which represents ~8% of the dairy population, but is gaining popularity rapidly.  Rounding out the remaining 2% are the large gray and docile Brown Swiss, the orange and white Guernsey, and the red and white Ayrshire.

These are Claire’s Jersey Cows
This is a Brown Swiss.
This is a Guernsey.
This is an Ayrshire.

More than just their color schemes separate these breeds. Much like dogs, each dairy breed has a set of unique personality traits that they are well known for among dairy farmers.  For example, Brown Swiss, with their big ears and dopy eyes are known for being a bit… slow. While Jerseys are rambunctious rabble-rousers with an endless curiosity that can frequently land them in trouble.  Though you may not believe it, each individual cow carries her own unique personality – a flighty heifer, a stubborn boss cow, an affectionate calf, to a lazy old gal.  It is their almost human-like qualities that make me adore each one.

Claire and her parents on their farm in Vermont.
Claire and her parents on their farm in Vermont.
One of Claire's Jersey cows.
One of Claire’s Jersey cows.

Now, you don’t have to know me long to know that my passion is the Jersey cow.  Many people might say a cow is a cow is a cow, but those of us who have worked closely with these four legged bovines know that that is far from the truth.  It is very rare to find a farmer who doesn’t have a preferred breed and many good hearted battles have been fought between long time friends, who have chosen to add the topic to the list of “we’ll be better friends if we refrain from speaking about this” conversations.  I grew up with Jersey cows as ‘sisters’ and, while I will willingly work with any cow, I will always have a special place in my heart for the doe eyed, long lashed faces of those petite brown ones.  While there are also many economical influences that make me feel this way, including their ability to produce milk with high amounts of butterfat and the fact that they consume less than Holsteins, it is their endless curiosity and spunk that really drives my devotion.

I’ve heard if one plans on marrying a farmer, they better be prepared to share their future spouse with the bovine beauties that occupy their barns.  Cows are a farmer’s life, and we do anything and everything we can to make sure that they grow, thrive, and flourish in the best environment we can provide. Must be  why my mother calls our herd of 30 her ‘other’ daughters.


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