Moxie was in heat yesterday for the first time since I’ve owned her and probably the first time ever.
Moxie is seventeen months old, but due to her nutritionally deprived upbringing, she is only slightly bigger than Duke, my three-month bull calf. She’s broader, with a deeper heart girth, but stunted for her age. (When I weight-taped them this morning, Duke was 350 pounds, Moxie, 425 pounds, and Rocky, 640 pounds. By the growth charts, Moxie should be 650 pounds.) However, as I hoped, given good food she is slowly growing. When she first came to me she wore a calf halter. Now I have her in a yearling halter run up to its smallest hole. And yesterday she officially became a teen.
Every morning after milking Katika’s back teats, I release baby Duke from his stall to nurse the front ones while I set out hay in the snowy paddock. Then I turn out the sheep and the adolescents Rocky and Moxie. [All photos on this post were taken today, simply for size comparisons, when the excitement was over.]
Yesterday I was outside refilling the water trough when I noticed that instead of putting her head down to eat, Moxie had turned back to the barn. She stood in the doorway, calling down the aisle to Katika.
It was the first time I’d heard her make a sound. I can tell all the cattle apart by voice without looking up (though as Duke grows bigger, his impatient “I’m starving to death!” bellow has deepened to become almost indistinguishable from Rocky’s.) Moxie’s voice was higher and lighter but just as urgent.
Urgent? Hmmm. After her first flush of interest back in November, Katika had reverted to her usual reserve and never paid Moxie any further attention. So why was Moxie calling to her so longingly?
It had to be heat.
When a cow is ovulating and available to be successfully bred, her system is flooded with hormones. Especially if she’s a young heifer, these hormones can make her slightly unhinged. “I’m in love! I’m in love!” she wails, without any real idea of the object of her pressing desire. She’ll mount anything that stands still. “Is it you? Is it you?” As a milkmaid at these times you have to be quick on your feet. More than one person I know has turned her back only to find a giant shadow rearing over her.
Meanwhile the heifer gives off pheromones that unhinge all the cattle around her. Sometimes you come across such indiscriminate humping that it’s hard to tell which cow is actually in heat and at the root of the frenzy. However, in this case, with a herd consisting of a bull calf, a castrated steer, and a pregnant cow, I could have no doubt. Little Moxie was rampant with unfocused lust.
Katika walked out of the barn with her usual deliberate tread, swinging bag, and mild expression. She stood for a moment at the water trough. Moxie was swishing her hindquarters under her nose, Charlie was trying to steal a few more gobbles from her udder, and Rocky was shouldering Charlie aside in his own attempts to nurse. Katika looked like a matron half-buried in demanding children. She lowered her head impatiently and swept them all away. And then… she must have gotten a pheromone whiff. She stopped, transfixed.
Moxie stood eagerly. Even as I said, “Oh, dear,” 1200-pound Katika lifted her front legs, reared, and threw herself on top of the tiny heifer. Moxie instantly collapsed in the snow as if her legs had telescoped, and Katika was back on all fours looking puzzled.
This went on all morning. Moxie never seemed to get discouraged, but picked herself up from her accordion-flat position in the snow and sashayed back for more. Once she even tried to mount Katika — which essentially meant flinging herself at Katika’s hocks. When I stopped at the garage to speak to O.B., he said Randy the painter, watching in horror through the window, had been worried about the “big black cow attacking the little one!” O.B. thought perhaps it was hunger and they were fighting over food.
“It’s hunger, all right,” I said. “But not for hay!” Moxie was so beside herself she couldn’t eat.
Hours later when I came back to the farm for evening chores, the men told me they thought Moxie must be very tired. Rocky the steer had finally heard the siren call and mounted her non-stop all afternoon.
By the time I had finished mucking the barn, even baby Duke had been led astray and was enthusiastically attempting to have his way with her.
When I let the animals in for the night, Moxie was damp and bedraggled from her constant contact with the snow but still bouncy and eyeing the boys with interest. Ever the killjoy, I separated her into the lamb stall for the night for a little enforced rest.
This morning the mad gleam had faded from Moxie’s eyes. She ate her breakfast sedately as if she’d never moaned with desire in her life. The boys came barreling out of the barn to start those fun games again and she was shocked! shocked! by their attitude, kicking them smartly in the head.
As Eliza Doolittle said virtuously in My Fair Lady, “I’m a good girl, I am!”
I wonder if this scene will be replayed every 21 days until Duke is old enough to breed her in the fall?