Cows work their tails off for us

The Best of Stubble Mulch

Hobo Day is coming, and the parade through town is always a treat.

It marks the end of our long summer of community parades at White, Elkton, Bruce, Brookings, Flandreau, Arlington and points beyond.

All have a few rattling old cars, hopeful politicians, shrieking fire trucks, an antique tractor or two and a gaggle of fine horses.

None have cows, which in this area of the country is surprising.

We’re dairy cow country out here, and over the past couple of decades with state officials actively seeking large dairies here and abroad with the investment/visa EB-5 program helping out, the eastern tier of South Dakota counties are now dotted with large dairies.

Brookings County is home to more than 15,000 dairy cows, with more soon on the way, I suspect. There are nearly 100,000 dairy cows in our state, mostly in this eastern tier.

But what species is prancing along smartly in our parades?


I guess there’s nothing wrong with that, but horses are mostly for hobby, not for work. The star worker out here is the plodding, sad eyed, laid-back dairy cow. She deserves a spot in our parades, don’t you think? After all, she works for us day and night, churning out new wealth and good health to beat the bank.

High on South Dakota’s Dairy Cow Hall of Fame is College Belle Wayne No. 98,497, who was born at SDSU on July 3, 1906, and died in the fall of 1924. She’s buried somewhere up there on the hill.

She made her mark in 1912 by producing 3,338 pounds of milk in 30 days. That’s about 388 gallons of milk, give or take a few swigs.

South Dakota dairy cows aren’t exactly your great grandfather’s Model T Fords. They’re world class Cadillac creatures, if you ask me.

You probably don’t remember the 1980s racehorse Swale. Well-coiffed national TV newscasters nearly had apoplexy over Swale’s demise in 1984. For days and days, it was the top news story in the world.

Swale was an athletic 3-year-old. He’d won only nine races in his entire life. Meanwhile College Belle Wayne and then her cousins out here on the flatlands continued through the years to work 24-7 without so much as a Sunday off and no mention on television.

Swale was just a fast and pampered horse. True, his owner pocketed about $1.5 million because he could run. But really, what did Swale contribute to society?

Cows lack the glamorous image horses enjoy.

If General Custer had ridden to the Little Big Horn on a Holstein, he may have lived longer and would have had better teeth. Cows would have gained historic notoriety and passed along a more attractive image to TV newscasters.

I’m a city guy and know absolutely nothing about cows.

But I have a soft spot in my heart for those ordinary, insipid, boring, big-boned bovines with slobbery nostrils constantly caressed by long, prehensile tongues. They have a real talent for making milk.     

Are your bones stronger and are you healthier because of a horse? No. Give credit to our slow-poke cows, who are whiling away time on a big dairy near you, dutifully taking their social place in line for the welcoming twice-a-day ride on the milking carousel.

Just imagine how remarkable it is for them to transform a front-end loader of smelly silage and a few gallons of stock tank water into what you put on your cereal this morning.

I’m reminded of an old cow that belonged to a neighbor of ours. A spring blizzard was coming, so the neighbor hiked out to herd his cows to the barn as the wet snow fell.

Visibility dropped to zero, so our neighbor grabbed the tail of one of the cows and was led by that cow to the safety of the barn. On the way, the tail froze straight out behind that cow, and when it turned around in the barn, the frozen tail hit a post and most of it clinked to the floor.

Which just proves that cows work their tails off for us all.


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