This morning at 6:00 I was greeted by Ginger, my 2 1/2 year old heifer mooing vigorously.  Is it hunger where she did not get enough hay during the yesterday’s afternoon feeding, or is she in heat?  Ginger happens to be a loud child so I am unsure why. A female cow typically goes into estrus (her fertile cycle) every 17-22 days.  A heifer’s heat cycles begin around one year of age.   The typical production dairy breeds their heifers at a little more than a year of age. We breed at 3 years deciding that a more mature heifer is a healthier mom. 

While Ginger is a loud mooing cow during heat, not all heifers or cows (a cow is defined as having had 2 calves and 2 lactations) are.  The obvious signs of heat behavior are mounting by other cows in the herd (a standing heat) or mounting by the cow in heat.  There can also be a vaginal discharge and wild look in her eyes.  And, of course, bellowing/mooing.   One has somewhere in the neighborhood of 12 hours to breed a cow, or heifer in heat.  So… is important to be ever watchful with one’s eyes and ears as timely breeding is important.

Ginger will not be bred until the summer, but I am starting to note her heats on the calendar now. One of the problematic things about NH winters and cow heats are cows wandering around in the snowy barnyard trying to mount each other.  There is also the issue of me being a quasi-family member.  I can potentially get mounted.  So I need to be watchful about not getting knocked down by cows trying to mount each other.  And if I turn my back on a cow in heat I could get mounted.  I will confess that getting mounted by a 700 pound animal is unique (I have been).  And once is enough although it is not an experience to be missed of having 700 pounds on one’s back.  It is subtle, but going down to the ground is what happens.

Oh, Ginger was not in heat – just hungry!