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Cows, calves live in super friendly territoryCows, calves live in super friendly territory

Life Is Simple: Mama cows let up to four calves nurse … at one time?

Jerry Crownover

October 22, 2019

3 Min Read

Right outside the fence that surrounds our house is a pasture that is presently home to 30 cows and their spring-born calves. In early summer, a few times I noticed two calves suckling one cow at the same time. Since I had two sets of twins born at this place this year, I thought nothing of it, assuming they were the twins nursing their mother.

As the summer dragged on, I began to notice that there were more and more multiple nursing calves, so I started comparing the ear tag numbers of the calves to those of their moms. I realized that the cows who were allowing two, and sometimes three, calves to nurse were not the ones who had given birth to twins. One morning, as I was leaving for coffee, I even noticed one old red cow standing by the driveway, while four calves were getting their morning meal from her. What the heck?

Usually, when a nonresident calf tries to barge in on a mother nursing her own, the cow will, not so subtly, let the young thief know he is not welcome by either kicking or butting him away. This was not happening in this group of cows and calves, so I even took my wife with me one morning to validate that I wasn’t imagining things or going crazy.

Parking the UTV in the middle of the herd during morning feeding time, we watched about a dozen calves going from cow to cow, suckling from behind as the cows’ biological calves nursed from the side. None of the cows so much as raised a foot, or even looked around to see where the extra suction was coming from. I was dumbfounded.

Last week, my old cowboy neighbor, Joe Bill, stopped by during his morning rounds. “Joe Bill,” I asked, “could you go with me, and see if you can explain what is happening at this farm?”

Always willing to help me with any problem, he gladly jumped in my rig, and we took off for the cow herd, which was already on the east side of the pasture. On the way over, I told him everything I’ve just explained here, and asked him if he knew what was going on.

“I’ll have to take a look at ‘em,” he pondered.

Sitting among the cows, we both watched as calves walked from cow to cow, nursing a little from each one, before moving on to the next one.

“Can you explain it?” I asked.

My old friend thoughtfully replied, “Hmm, you weren’t around here in the 1960s, were you?”

I explained that I was still in school and living where I had grown up, about 100 miles away.

“Well, I was,” he stated in his matter-of-fact way, “and I’ve seen this before, when we had a big bunch of newcomers move in on the old Jones farm. They all lived in the same house, ate the same meals, and, I think, even shared the same beds. Jerry, what you’ve got here is nothing more than a hippie commune.”

Crownover lives in Missouri.

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