5 lessons the cows will teach you

Former Miner Institute herdswoman intern, Margaret Quaassdorff. Photo courtesy Miner Institute.

Former Miner Institute herdswoman intern, Margaret Quaassdorff. Photo courtesy Miner Institute.

The Miner Institute in Clinton County does a lot of work training the new generation of dairy farmers. It recently hosted its annual Northeast Regional Dairy Challenge, where 120 college students compete in teams to see who runs the best dairy farm. Miner also hosts year-long interns who learn dairy by working on the Institute's 270 cow farm.

Margaret Quaassdorff is recent graduate of the program from Hinsdale, New Hampshire. She didn't grow up on a dairy farm, but got hooked as a student at the University of Vermont. Now she's getting her masters in Dairy Nutrition at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

Margaret sent me her lessons learned after a year of being a herdswoman on the farm. What strikes me about what she learned from the cows is how much it could apply to just about anyone. We're not so different from our bovine friends.

  1. Be curious.  Cows like routine, but if something new shows up in their environment they are very curious. What is it? It is good, bad, or indifferent? Will it eat me? Can I eat it? It is always good to ask questions. This is the way to make discoveries and improve oneself.

  2.  Be patient, understanding, and kind.  When introducing a heifer to a trailer or chute for the first time or trying to catch the cows for vet check, patience and kindness is key; especially if you ever hope to get her to do whatever you are trying to do again.  The same is true when teaching students, or interacting with the public. If you try to empathize with a cow or a person, then mutual understanding and cooperation come easier.

  3. Be observant.  A good herdsperson can tell a lot about and from a cow by the way she looks and behaves. The signs and clues she gives you are not always obvious. In any situation, being aware of your surroundings, and knowing when and how to take action, are all valuable life skills. Do not let an opportunity pass by because you are not paying attention.

  4. Don’t be afraid to make mistakes. When animals are trying to reach a goal, they are not afraid of looking silly, or messing up. They keep trying until they accomplish what they are after.

  5. Ruminate often. A cow spends 7-10hrs/day ruminating (Grant and Albright, 2000). Problems arise in any task, but if you take time to think about the solution (ruminate on the issue), you can push past any obstacle in your way.

I definitely need to ruminate more often.


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One Comment

  1. Good advice, Margaret Quaassdorff!

    Thanks for sending that our way. May it "go viral".