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Bovine Gender Reassignment

Although I wish I could say my full-time job is writing books, at this point, my full-time job is running my farm on Vashon Island and making cheese, with a bit of time at the end of the day to promote Growing a Farmer. Although I had a large book-launch party scheduled for last night, the bulk of my day was spent with my cows.Although I had a large book-launch party scheduled for last night, the bulk of my day was spent with my cows.

Two and a half months ago, a calf was born during the worst storm of the year. Blustery, snowing, and cold, it was a storm to remember. Through all of the activity outside of the barn, inside one of the stalls one of my cows — Dinah 2.0 — calmly gave birth to a small calf. We named him Stormy.

On a dairy farm, there is a very definite value placed on females and a much, much lesser value placed on males. Females are kept on the farm, to be grown and, at the two-year mark, bred back to become the future milking cows. Male cows are sold off as quickly as possible, having no potential value to a dairy.

In the early hours of the morning, very soon after Stormy was born, I flipped the calf over to check for its gender. Females are exciting; bull calves are a great disappointment.

My expert assessment: Stormy was a male, so he was removed from the stall after a day and sent to live in the paddock with the other calves until I could wean him and sell him off. For two-plus months he lived there, drinking milk from the old nurse cow, learning to eat hay, and having a good old time. Once I knew that he was to be sold from the farm, I paid him little notice. My time was best spent with the more important cows.

Yesterday morning he was fully weaned; I had made a deal with a friend on the Island to come and pick him up. He would buy Stormy, raise him for meat, and most importantly, get him off my land. With only so much valuable pasture, I have to prioritize the land for the milk-producing females.With only so much valuable pasture, I have to prioritize the land for the milk-producing females.

I had my guy Jorge lasso him and bring him over to the truck to be loaded. As the two of us lifted him up to the tailgate, I took one, last look at Stormy. To my great bewilderment, where there should have been a scrotum, there were four tiny teats, all spaced quite nicely. In fact, Stormy was a young female. Needless to say, we quickly took her down off the tailgate of the truck and walked her back to the paddock, to spend the next few months drinking more mother's milk, eating more hay, and eventually, to join the cadre of milking cows here at the farm.

What did I take from this most embarrassing moment today? I realized that even though I was to leave a few hours later to drive to the city and promote Growing a Farmer, I was still learning to be a farmer. I had written close to a quarter of the book on dairy cows, going on about my great expertise with bovines for all to read, and yet I still had trouble telling the males from the females. I am greatly humbled.

÷ ÷ ÷

Kurt Timmermeister grew up in Seattle and was a successful restaurateur before moving to Vashon Island. There he transformed a rough patch of earth into Kurtwood Farms, presently a vibrant farm where he raises Jersey cows, produces farmstead cheese, and hosts weekly farm dinners composed entirely of ingredients from his tidy Vashon farm.

Books mentioned in this post

  1. Growing a Farmer: How I Learned to... Used Hardcover $11.95

Kurt Timmermeister is the author of Growing a Farmer: How I Learned to Live off the Land

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