Lee Pitts: The golden calf
November 3, 2011
I just heard about a Hereford cow in England who gave birth to her second calf in three months. I’m not talking about a twin, I’m referring to a miracle known as “superfecundation.” It sounds dirty to me but it means that a second egg got impregnated a few months after the first, causing another pregnancy at a later stage of development. Being a tightwad, my first thought was, when the vet preg-checked did he charge for one cow, or two?
At first I thought this cow should be put into an embryo transfer program and start pumping out copies. Two calves per year would double your profit and could give the Hereford Association something really big to promote. But on second thought, two calf crops per year might mean you’d just go broke twice as fast!
You’d have to buy twice as much hay and vaccine and how would you mark the ear tags, 1A and 1B? The banker would demand twice as much collateral and your wife would be grouchy for six months, instead of only three, when she had to get up to check the heifers. Having the neighbors over for one branding per year is already one time too many, and if this catches on you’ll have to pick up twice the beer cans and horse leavings. With double the calves you’ll have to rope twice as many, which might make you a better roper, and then the USTRC would reclassify you and you’d never win. Your cows would have to give twice as much milk and you could end up with a bunch of leppy calves with a cow herd made up of “milk duds.”
I could go on and on like this.
At the same time I heard about the fertile Myrtle cow, I read an article in Time Magazine about favored children. As a middle child this is a subject very near and dear to my heart as I was the kid who never got to ride in the cab of the pickup. Time Magazine confirmed what I already knew, mothers and fathers have favorites despite their denials. In multiple studies a minimum of 65 percent of mothers and 70 percent of fathers exhibited a preference for one child, and I’m sure the percentage is much higher with cows.
The “Golden Child” is usually the oldest, especially if it’s a son, but the favored can also be the youngest daughter. As luck would have it, I happened to have one of each and that’s how I attained “Least Favored Status.” While my mother recorded everything my brother did in his baby book mine is empty, so as an un-golden child I am much more sensitive to the damage to the psyche of a potential second calf.
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According to Time, parents like the first child best because it’s the biggest and prettiest. That’s because the eldest offspring doesn’t have to share any food with any siblings in his formative years. As for the better looking part, I would disagree but for the fact that there’s photographic evidence of me to support Time’s conclusion.
Often the father’s favorite is the little girl of the family, but since the bull will be nowhere to be found after he’s had his frolic, that leaves the cow and her Golden Child to pick on the second calf. The oldest will have the heavier weaning weight and will sell for more than his little brother when he’s offered at auction. As a result he’ll become arrogant and snooty. The calf buyers will laugh and pick on the ugly second calf, whose mother always liked his brother best. The older calf will be the one that everyone heaps their praise upon and the second born will suffer one public humiliation after another. As a result, according to Time Magazine, the second son will lack self-esteem and confidence, will likely suffer depression and bear psychic scars the rest of his life. He could even have severe behavioral problems.
We are still talking about cattle, right?
I suppose things could be worse. According to Time, scientists say that a cow’s attachment to her first calf is sometimes so strong that she will kill her second calf if the first is still around. So I suppose you could say I’m lucky I’ve made it this far.