About a month ago, one of my cows up at the north place came up lame on her right, rear foot. I got her up and ran her through the chute to check out the problem. I could find no foreign object stuck in the foot, nor was there any swelling to indicate infection.
The old girl was gentle enough to let me feel up and down the entire length of her leg and foot and there seemed to be nothing broken and none of my massaging seemed to cause her any pain, but as soon as I gave her a precautionary shot of antibiotics and turned her out, she could barely put any weight at all on that foot.
For days, the cow stayed far away from the rest of the herd as I unrolled round bales of grass hay for their daily feeding.  I could tell the lame cow had started to lose a little weight and, knowing that she was soon to calve, I started taking a little square bale of pure alfalfa to her each day. Since she was always “over the hill” or “behind the timber” from the rest of the herd, she had ample time to get her fill of the protein-rich alfalfa before the remainder of the herd wandered by.
Everything went fine for the first couple of weeks, but I soon noticed that a nosy old cow would leave the herd as soon as I started to drive out of the field. One day, I circled back and, sure enough, the nosy cow would run to the crippled cow to “help” her enjoy the premium feed.  So, I started taking two bales of alfalfa.
The crippled cow had her calf shortly after I began taking two bales each day, so I started taking three. The second day after I had started taking three bales of alfalfa to the lame cow and her friend, I was surprised to drive over to where she had been staying and, lo and behold, I now had TEN cows huddled around the crippled cow and her baby, bawling, restless and waiting for the “good stuff.” I was not about to take any more alfalfa (hay that I’ve been selling to the horse people for six bucks per bale) to feed a bunch of old beef cows. But, realizing the crippled cow couldn’t walk the quarter of a mile to where I had unrolled the grass hay, I did make one concession.  
I drove back to the bale yard and loaded up a round bale, returned to where the crippled cow and her new-found friends were, and unloaded it (without unrolling it) in a ditch beside where they were. The lame cow hobbled over to the round bale, took a bite, and looked at me as if to say, “This is not the hay I’ve become accustomed to eating.” She limped away.
I checked on her every day for the next few days. She would always amble over to the truck to see if I had brought her alfalfa, only to disappointedly turn back and start munching on the grass hay bale. Her nosy friend only stayed with her for two days before rejoining the rest of the herd.
Today, I went to the north farm to unroll what will probably be their last bale of hay of the spring (grass is getting green and none of them seem to be interested in hay). Much to my surprise, the lame cow and her calf had rejoined the main herd. Amazingly, the cow seemed to be walking fine, just as if she had a miraculous recovery from the phantom injury or illness. I think the old girl was faking it just to get me to bring her alfalfa every day for a month.  
Animals are like people, with the exception of maybe being a little smarter. After all, who conned whom into delivering a delicious meal to their “doorstep” every day for all those weeks?
Jerry Crownover farms in Lawrence County. He is a former professor of Agriculture Education at Missouri State University, and is an author and professional speaker. To contact Jerry, go to www.ozarksfn.com and click on 'Contact Us.'   


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