Red Runt Cow

by kfrego

Of all the animals encountered on a small family dairy farm, the one which stands out in my early memories is the red runt cow. The red runt was an ayrshire (ash ear) cow with a severe “short cow syndrome” problem. This cow was the problem child of my dad’s dairy. These memories were retained as a result of my dad’s frequent rants about “that damned red runt”.

Most dairy cows and farm animals, much like people, are happy to go along with the crowd and follow the rules. When the barn doors open at milking time the cows will normally file in and go to their individual stanchions. This is the quickest way to your hay and grain during milking. Most cows stand relaxed during milking because it’s the best way to get rid of all that milk in their bag. When milking is complete most cows file out of the barn in an orderly progression and on to the pastures. Most cows are content living within the confined areas of their fences.

The red runt cow had nothing in common with the rest of the cows. In 1866 Samuel Copland described the ayrshire cattle in Scotland as “diminutive in size, ill fed, and bad milkers”. Perhaps this heritage had something to do with her attributes and being the smallest occupant of the barn probably didn’t help either. As children we were told time and again “stay away from that red runt”. She wasn’t really mean, you just never knew what she would do next. If there was a cow in the wrong stanchion it would be the red runt. If there was a cow shoving it’s way to get in or out of the barn instead of going with the flow it was the red runt. When you heard the milk bucket go bouncing (and the resultant swearing) it was the red runt who kicked it. When a cow was missing, guess who was outside the fence and couldn’t get to the barn?

The red runt cow never reached the level of fame achieved by runts like Wilbur (Charlotte’s Web) or Babe (the piglet hero), but her adventures are always going to be a part of my youthful memories. We’ve all had some runts in our lives, in one form or another.