Helga Calved!

Helga calved! I realize the entire world did not pause to celebrate this amazing feat, but I did.

Helga is our brown Swiss-Jersey milk cow so now that she calved, our family gets to share sweet, thick cream and tasty milk with her calf, Louis L’Amour.

Only Helga and Louis never learned to share.

I expected Helga to have a calf in October. The days passed, Helga waddled across the pasture. November came. Helga spent some time with the rest of the cattle, but chose to graze by herself a lot of the time. Cows meander away from the rest of the herd when they are ready to calve so we hoped her time was close. Of course, this was Helga so we weren’t sure.

Helga is not your ordinary doe-eyed, docile milk cow. She doesn’t stand quietly as I milk and she doesn’t chew her cud.

Helga bellows, kicks and drools.

Even the other cattle don’t particularly like Helga. They tolerate her, like an older brother tolerates his little sister, but they don’t like her.

So when Helga stood off to the edge of the pasture, we didn’t know whether we were observing social ostrasization or prepartum preparations.

Finally, one day after a chilling snowstorm, a small black being wobbled to his feet beside Helga. My husband, Steve, and I walked out to check on the little fellow. Helga allowed us near and we considered the possibility that she might have mellowed.

Then Helga charged straight over the top of her calf at Steve, shaking her head and bawling her motherhood.

Apparently, Helga’s personality is permanent.

We gave the new pair a day to bond, and then put both of them in the corral.

Time to milk. I was elated. Milking offers a rhythm to my life and provides the most sumptuous addition to my morning coffee that I’ve ever tasted. I’m addicted.

I stepped into the corral.

Helga put me over the fence.

I finally managed to put her in the milking chute by using my stick. I didn’t need to hit her, just wave it in front of her. In a previous life, Helga must have been beaten because she respects sticks.

Most of the time.

The next day, I brought my stick with me to strengthen my argument. Helga argued me up into the feed manger with her horns.

After a week or so, Helga, Louis and I had a production agreement, but Louis collected almost all the profits, leaving me a pint for our land and labor investments. This was not a long-term, sustainable plan.

Now, I milk in the morning and let Louis have the daytime production. He and his mother separate in the evening, leaving the nighttime manufacturing for my family. I think Helga enjoys the relief from Louis’ continual demands for food, too. At least, she trots right in to the adjoining corral each evening.

By morning, she is ready to mother again. I turn her into Louis’s corral, let him nurse for a couple of minutes and then coax Helga into the milking chute. Louis can suck out in two minutes what takes me 15 minutes to strip from Helga. I’m pretty sure that Steve and I could make a million dollars if we could turn Louis’s sucking talents into a shop-vac.

Meanwhile, I’ll add a little more cream to my coffee and raise a toast to my Helga.

Lisa Schmidt and her husband, Steve Hutton, raise natural, grassfed beef and lamb at the Graham Ranch near Conrad.

Lisa Schmidt