Grit Blogs > The Accidental Farmer

Bovine Phlebotomist and Free Martinism

April FreemanThis year, I’ve learned more veterinary stuff than I ever dreamed I’d know. One duty I’ve gotten really good at is being the bovine phlebotomist. I’ve taught myself how to take blood samples from cows.

There’s a big vein that runs down the center of a cow’s tail. If you hold the cow’s tail straight up, it’s actually pretty easy to take a blood sample using a really big needle and a syringe.

My Holstein yearling named Valentine has me worried.

We got Valentine from a cattle sale as a young bottle calf. One concern that I had when we got her was just not knowing the circumstances of her birth.

Valentine calf

See, there’s this thing with calves called “free martinism.”

If a cow has boy-girl twins, it is extremely likely that the female of the pair will be infertile. The male hormones that the boy fetus releases in-utero often damage the developing reproductive tract of the female fetus. Usually, female calves of a boy-girl twin set are infertile. They usually grow up looking less feminine and more masculine than a typical cow. Their reproductive organs are misshapen and their external “girly” parts usually look odd too.

In the back of my mind, I’ve kept the possibility that Valentine is a free-martin. I just don’t know. She does look nice and feminine. Her udder looks correctly formed for a young cow, but sometimes there are no external signs of free martinism.

We’ve had her in with the bull over the last two months or so. However, we’ve not really noticed her coming into heat. Perhaps she’s cycling at night. Could be.

Anyway, today, I took the step that will determine whether or not Valentine sticks around on the farm. I took her into the chute and obtained a vial of her blood for pregnancy testing. If it’s positive, she’ll stay. If it’s negative … well, we’re going to have to do the hard thing and send her off to the sale.

It stinks sometimes making those decisions, but we got her to be a milk cow. If she can’t be a milk cow, then we have to sell her to make room for a productive cow on the farm. That’s just the way it goes.

Grown Valentine

However, I’m keeping my fingers crossed that it’s positive. I’ll keep you posted on how it goes.

6/19/2014 3:24:18 PM

Rats. Preg check came back negative. Darn it. My dairy project is doomed! Doomed! Okay. Melodrama over. My hubby's considering breeding one of our beefers to a dairy cross to get a cross bred milker for me. It'll be 3 years before I ever can milk her, and that's supposing that I get a heifer the first time around. Sigh. I need a goat.

5/28/2014 7:49:41 AM

April, homestead farming is filled with practical vs. emotional decisions. Having a homestead filled with pets is not a practical thing but making the decision to cull out the non productive animals might be emotional but it's the right thing to do. I grew up around cows but never knew about free martinism. Of course 55 years ago farmers knew about such things but they just didn't know what to call it. Life went on and just as you are thinking the non producing cow went to market or was destined to freezer camp. I guess it really doesn't matter what the syndrome is called. It all boils down to whether the animal adds to the sustainability of the homestead or removes from the sustainability. It's a tough life making homestead decisions. I'm keeping my fingers crossed that Valentine is pregnant. Have a great Bovine Phlebotomist day.