What’s In A Name


One of the first questions I get from many people when they find out I have cows is: “do all the cows have names?” The short answer is “No. They have numbers.”

If you read this blog regularly, though, you know that some of them have names; we’ve even asked for your help in selecting some names. When I first visited the farm, only one cow had a name: Cupcake. She is a story for another day, though.

As I started helping with calves, several of them started picking up names. The timing is probably coincidental. One of the first was Sparky, number 1062. She was a really active calf, and it just came out one day as she was attempting to eat the hose I was using to give her group water. Another calf born about the same time was number 1068, Buttercup. When moving her to a pen she tried bucking and running. David said something like “whoa there Buttercup”, and it stuck, kind of. She went by Buttercup for several months, but now, as a milk cow, she’s just “1068”. Sparky, on the other hand is still just “Sparky”.

sparky.jpg
This is Sparky. You can’t read her ear tag, but we know who she is.

Many of the calves that got names were favorites, but that’s certainly not to say that a cow or calf without a name is not a favorite. Number 1099 is due to calve next week. When she was 2 days old she tried to take me (as in ran at me with the intention of trampling me). It was adorable, and she’s been one of my favorites ever since. She never got a name, though.

All of the Kuckelcows have names, and we’ve continued to give their daughters names. However, I call HD 100 (the first Kuckelcalf born here, named Zorba) “100”. We actually have two number 27s. One was born here, and one was purchased. They go by “27” and “big 27”. “Big 27 is a purchased Kuckelcow, so she also has a name. It’s Unicorn, but I had to look that up. Although all 38 Kuckelcows came with names, I only know four or five off the top of my head, and we only regularly refer to three by their names.

This post really does have a point, and I’m finally getting to it. I think the people who ask me about the cows names think that a name gives the cows identity and personality. Really, though, what makes a name? Does it have to be a word? Can’t it be a number? When we refer to “1099” an individual animal comes to mind the same way that a different animal comes to mind when we refer to “Sparky”. If we refer to “Buttercup” I think something like “that’s 1068 – right?”

I think the question people are really asking is: “Do you know your cows?” And to that, the answer is yes, absolutely yes. We know them, and we care about them a great deal.

9 thoughts on “What’s In A Name

    1. Thanks for your comment, Judi! We don’t register any cattle at the moment, but we’re tossing around the idea of registering some of our best. Having to name everything is intimidating. We just number in order; no creativity needed!

  1. I agree, I definitely know all of my 40 ewes, and can rattle off their pedigrees by memory. I even address them by their number/name when I’m talking to them (and I talk to them all the time!). I think a “name name” is only useful if you need the animal to learn it, so they can respond to requests or commands, like we would expect from a dog.

    1. Michelle, that’s a great point about animals needing a name if they need to respond. I make a habit of talking to animals while working with them as well, and I like to think at least a few of them know their names. Thanks for your comment!

  2. Not many of our cows had names when I was growing up. Only a few orphans that I raised on the bottle and kept as cows. With 1200 cows, that naming process would have been a little daunting. BUT, our cows with numbers were just as significant. We were on that place for 20 years and I bet my dad could tell you about cows he had when he first started, where they had their calves, what mischief they got into, and even where their daughters ended up. Calling cow 1497 by her number was just as significant as calling up the bull named Sue. 🙂

    1. I hope Sue wasn’t as mean as the character in the song! Thanks for sharing from a different perspective, Ryan. With so many cows and calves over the years, I bet your dad has some great stories!

  3. I visited my Kansas Farmer friend at calfing season and witnessed all of the little numbers running away and matching up with the big numbers ( small 86 finding BIG 86, etc.) It was a great sight for this city “boy”

    1. Chip, I’m glad you got the chance to see livestock agriculture first hand. We had a group of college kids help us milk the cows on Saturday. I think that was a pretty eye-opening experience for those city-kids as well!

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