Everyone Needs a Friend

I don’t think Helga could pass the kindergarten readiness screening.

Oh sure, our Brown Swiss-Jersey milk cow probably has the intelligence she needs. I can practically see the cogs turning as she strategizes about when and where to dodge as I herd her into the milking chute each day.

Her physical abilities are top-notch, too. When I turned her out to pasture the other day, she kicked into the air, twisting with every buck. She was better than some of the rodeo broncs we have watched.

But she sorely lacks social skills. Her peers don’t like her.

Helga is closing in on her due date, so I dried her up to give her body a break before a new calf demands her rich, creamy milk.

While I bemoan my milk deprivation, Helga bemoans her social status.

In the pasture, she first headed toward the group of yearlings that surrounded a bale of hay. The yearlings took one look at that brown, horned adult and, as a pack, moved to the other end of the pasture. Helga munched her hay alone, periodically raising her head to see if the pack was returning yet.

She tried the young mothers’ club next. My husband, Steve, and I keep our first calf heifers in the same pasture and they tend to graze together. Helga sauntered toward that bunch, picking a stem of grass once in a while as she approached. As one, the new mothers stood up, positioning themselves between this interloper and their precious babies. Helga stopped, looked at them for a few minutes, and then turned away.

She tried the sheep next, wandering over to them as if she just happened to be moseying that direction and, oh, here were some companions!

The sheep scattered, ran and bunched together about 50 yards away, as if they had spotted a coyote instead of a milk cow.

While Helga is learning sorely needed social skills — she quit shaking her stubby horns at her acquaintances so I know she has potential — she is still contributing to our ranch.

Montana law forbids the sale of raw milk so when Helga provides more than we can drink, I freeze the excess. I have a freezer full of cream just in time for lambing season — and Dora.

We managed to acquire the orphan lamb from a friend when the mother died. Dora is thriving on Helga’s cream.

Dora came to live at the Graham Ranch the day after Steve and I agreed that we raise a closed herd of white-faced sheep and black cattle.

“We’ll only bring bucks and bulls on to the ranch after this, right?” Steve insisted.

“Yes,” I agreed. “We want to reduce the risk of disease and keep our quality high.”

Then the friend with Icelandic Dora called and I didn’t think a newborn lamb would bring disease with her.

Unlike Helga, Dora has enough social skills for all of the livestock around here. She followed 4-year-old Abby and me through the barn when she was four days old. In fact, she climbed out of our “bum pen,” where we keep a heat lamp and warm straw for orphans. Then she climbed through the knots in the barn wood and followed us into the corral. A corral full of bulls is not a healthy place for a three pound, 7-inch-tall lamb. We left her with some old ewes in the assisted living corral and dashed away, hoping we could run out of sight while she was distracted.

Then Steve came to the barn to catch a horse. Dora followed him to the bunkhouse. She stayed there while he rode through the cattle, but dashed out when he came back to unsaddle. She followed him to the house, sucking on his pants leg with every step.

Dora now resides in the yard with the dogs, sipping Helga milk from a bucket. She would like to join the family in the house, but we have learned to open the door and jump inside as quickly as we can, before tiny Dora slips in behind us. Instead, she has to satisfy herself with befriending our two dogs, Ruby and Barkus.

If Helga were still milking, I would put the two of them in the same pen. They could learn a thing or two from each other.

Lisa Schmidt