2014 and 2015 were busy years, a fact attested to last fall by the horns our heifers from those years were sporting. Say what you might about horns being defense against predators, when only a few of the cows in a herd are horned they tend to make life for the other animals pretty dicey, so in October, when fly season was about over, we had the vet out to take the horns off two tw0-year-old heifers and one yearling.
The responsibility is ours. Do you know what is under the horns on a cow’s head? Sinuses. Great big holes in her skull, connected in some way with nose and ears. Cut the horn off and you expose the cow to all sorts of things getting into it. You open her head up to whatever the weather and temperature may want to throw at it. Sure, it will close up over time, but until then it’s a big chasm for germs to fall in and reproduce.
So it’s not surprising that we saw some serious drainage from those cavities, so serious we won’t describe it, but your imagination would have a hard time overdoing the possibilities. Think of a bad sinus infection in a human, and then multiply by a big number.
All three heifers were so struck, but the worst was Judith, a lovely two-year-old, 3/4 Jersey, 1/4 Ayreshire. It was bad, and looked worse, and the point of this post is to say that what was our best-looking replacement heifer is now, three months after de-horning, still looking scraggy and a little hollow-eyed. We have no fix to propose, just a lesson to the effect that making decisions and taking action on the part of our livestock is our responsibility, and when we drop the ball there are consequences. Judith may end up in the freezer this fall, and it looks like we’re the reason. Good mama, good genetics, good rearing: just one bad call, the failure to get those horns off when she was, and they were, tiny.
Oh, leave the horns, you say? Not on your tintype. We spend hours every week in close interaction with our dairy cows, and the near misses we’ve experienced with intact horns — a jab in the cheekbone, just a fraction of an inch below the eye, a snagged shirt that sent us flying through a fence, things of that sort — are all the convincer we need that our cows, at least, should be polled.
And, anyway, the horns won’t fit through our stanchions.