Maggie – A Very Special Cow
Mellow Middle-Aged Cow Inspires a Young Child
by Heather Smith Thomas of Salmon, ID
Over the past 53 years on our ranch, my husband and I have had many “special characters” in our cow herd. Some were calves that grew up to be pets. The steers had to be sold (and we hated to see them go) but some of the heifers became cows and we had the pleasure of knowing them throughout their long lives.
Some became special because of their unique personalities and affinity for human interaction. Maggie was the biggest pet we ever had. She was a very large crossbred Angus/Hereford/Limousin/Simmental, entering this role as a middle-aged cow — when she decided to become a little girl’s pet and win her heart.
Our son and daughter grew up helping on the ranch, and enjoyed working with the cattle. Our son went into a computer technology career for several years after he went to college and got married, then came back to ranching. Our daughter Andrea married and lived elsewhere for a while, then came back to the ranch with her four young children (Emily, Charlie, Samantha and Danielle) and we built a home for them. They all loved animals, but the youngest, Danielle, was especially fascinated by the cattle.
When Dani was 5 years old she enjoyed “helping” grandma with the ranch chores every chance she got. Even though her mama and siblings still lived in town at that time, she wanted to come to the ranch and see the animals. She loved the cattle, but was a little afraid of the big ones. One spring day when she was tagging along with me to feed the horses and water the cows in the field above our house, she told me she wanted to pet a cow or calf. The calves were still fairly young, that time of year, and some of the cows were very protective moms. It wouldn’t be safe to have a small child wandering amongst them and their babies, so I had her wait at the gate while I went into the field to fill the water tank with a hose from a hydrant. Several of the curious calves and a few of the cows came up to the gate to check her out; they were quite interested in this small human.
With the warm days of spring, the grass had started to grow, though there wasn’t much yet in that field because the cows were nipping it off — hungry for grass after a long winter. They were still being fed hay twice daily. Dani picked some of the taller grass in the lane by the gate, and stuck it through the gate.
Some of the cows — including middle-aged mellow Maggie — came closer, and Maggie tentatively reached for the grass, licking it out of Dani’s hand with her very long tongue. This delighted Dani, who diligently picked more grass for Maggie. Something clicked between them, and from then on, Maggie was very comfortable with Dani and Dani wasn’t afraid of her. Whenever that kid showed up, Maggie would come up to Dani to see if she had any grass, and Dani always picked a big handful to feed her.
By the next year Dani was a little bigger and not so timid and she could walk out in the field with the cows and calves (keeping a healthy distance from the ones she knew were “mean mamas”) to give grass to Maggie. That cow would come from clear across the pasture to greet her little friend, and be petted. Even if there was plenty of grass in the pasture, she dutifully ate whatever Dani picked for her.
At that point in time, Dani had never had a chance to see a calf born, and had her heart set on watching Maggie calve the next year. By then, Andrea and kids were living here on the ranch in a house we’d built for them. When calving season began in 2012, Dani made her mom promise to bring her to Grandma’s house when Maggie started to calve — even if she was in school, or asleep in the middle of the night. She kept her clothes in a pile by her bed, ready to jump into. Maggie went into labor April 8th (Easter Sunday) at 4 a.m. It was a cold, windy day so I put her in the barn, and called Andrea.
She woke Dani, who was up and ready in an instant, and they got down here to our place within minutes. Dani and I sat quietly in the stall next to Maggie’s, and our presence didn’t bother Maggie a bit. She continued to lie there, totally calm and relaxed, and give birth to a big bull calf. As soon as the calf was up and had nursed, I let Dani go into the stall and pet the calf and Maggie. Unlike most cows that are protective of their calves (and not safe for a child to be near the new baby), Maggie didn’t mind her little friend sitting there, and she licked Dani as well as the calf! That cow was a jewel — the perfect “starter cow” for a young cowgirl.
She continued to be “Dani’s cow” until she got old and came up open, and we had to sell her. That nearly broke Dani’s heart, but by then she was making pets of several yearling heifers. Today she has some favorite young cows that will come to her out in the fields or pastures to eat grass from her hand.
Maggie remains her all-time favorite cow, however, because this big gentle beast trusted her and gave her confidence when she was a very timid little girl. Because of Maggie, she wants to always have cows. She loved Maggie so much that when she was 9 years old she wrote a story about this very special cow. Here is the story that Dani wrote:
One day there was a cow named Maggie. She was a good cow. Maggie lived in the barnyard on the farm and she had some good old friends.
One day there was a little girl named Emily. There was only one at first. Then there was two, then three. After that, mom had a little girl born on November 4, 2004. Her name was Danielle Hansen and she loved riding horses. Danielle would go ride with grandma when she was little. Danielle wasn’t that big at the time.
She also loved helping her grandma feed the horses and cows in the winter. One day Danielle went to her grandma’s house to help feed the horses and cows. Danielle was going to see the cows with her grandma. Danielle picked some grass and put it through the gate and one cow walked up to Danielle and ate the grass that was in Danielle’s hand. Maggie took the grass out of her hand and licked her hand. Danielle asked her grandma what was the cows name and her grandma said her name was Maggie. Maggie got closer to Danielle and Danielle got to pet Maggie.
Every day Danielle would go out with some grass and walk in with the cows and her grandma would come with her so Danielle wouldn’t get hurt. Maggie came up to Danielle again and Maggie ate the grass. Then Danielle got to pet Maggie on the head and Maggie got to know Danielle growing up. The next year when it was calving season Danielle got to watch Maggie calve, and she had a big black boy. I got to go in with Maggie and I got to pet her calf. – The End
Over the years our family has had many special “pets” in our herd. These “cow characters” became deeply entwined in our lives and in our hearts. They were trusting individuals who often made our job easier — especially the ones we used as baby-sitters for insecure comrades. Our favorite cows made ranch life extremely enjoyable. What’s the purpose of having cows unless there are some special ones that are fun!? We’ve been blessed with many wonderful, entertaining individuals that have given us great satisfaction and pleasure, and I’m pleased that my young granddaughter may decide to go into a cattle career — all because of a big old cow named Maggie.