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Walking the Talk part III

May 1, 2018

Miss Jane Butterfield

Sorry to leave you hanging, we finally had a spell of dry days, and computer work just went by the wayside.  When you get July weather in April you burn the candle at both ends.  It seemed just like that we didn’t have to build a fire and dinner didn’t happen until dark.  For a fleeting moment it felt just like summer.

I’m sure long time readers remember me writing that I hadn’t ever eaten one of my milk cows, and that is entirely true.  Partly because I am a big wuss, and partly because most times when milk cows die they are sick.  Often you, or a vet has administered drugs that have long withholding times (possibly off label), or something is not right and you feel a little creeped out about eating the meat.  And sometimes, you find them dead.  It’s a whole different ballgame with beef cows, or at least on our farm.  They live a long time, and then one year they just don’t rebreed, or if they do breed they don’t raise a good-sized calf, and you have a cull cow.  She’s a cull only because she can’t have a calf, or raise a decent sized one, which doesn’t affect the meat at all, but the economics have to come into play, you still have to feed that animal.  Earning your keep is real.

Jane’s situation was more similar to the old beef cow ending. With her reproductive injury she couldn’t have another calf, or rather, shouldn’t.  At eight years of age, she was washed up as a family cow.  In the beef world they say a cow pays for her upbringing after five calves, Jane had six, with one of her twins dying.  So five live calves, we were even on the books as far as I was concerned.  This is where it gets tricky, I have never felt any of my milk cows owed me anything at the end.  Sorry beef girls, but the dairy girls raise a calf, and provide dairy products like milk, cream, butter, ghee and cheese, plus surplus skim milk and whey for pigs, and chickens.  That doesn’t count milk for the barn cats, dogs, and all the manure for the gardens. A family cow is a wondrous thing and the most economical animal on the farm.

I dreaded the decision I had to make.  I’ll be honest, at first I wouldn’t even entertain the thought of putting Jane in the freezer.  My inner wailing voice vowed to be gone the day of the event, and make my husband do the deed.  Quickly dispatch her in the woods and leave her there for the wild animals to cleanup.  One problem with that scenario. My husband DID NOT want to shoot another milk cow for me.  It’s one thing when one is suffering, but Jane wasn’t really suffering.  On to plan B, which was undecided in my mind.

About this time the Eagle Creek Fire took off (eventually burning 48,000 acres nearby), we had to evacuate and make hard decisions.  We could only take so much, and the thought of even trying to evacuate our cattle was mind-boggling.  We turned off the electric fence, turned the cattle loose and took Jory and our dogs and all the usual minutiae.  When faced with something as threatening as a forest fire you quickly realize how silly you are in the scheme of things.  My decision-making process about Jane had become much clearer.

I wasn’t sure about what to do, but I was definitely sure what I didn’t want to do.  I didn’t want to take her to the auction, and I didn’t want to haul her in and leave her at the plant we use for our beef.  I know you’re wondering why not, what’s the diff?  Well, it’s hard to explain to the casual ruminant observer.  For me anyway, my milk cows end up being like a pet, more like a dog if you will.  My beef cows retain their wildness, sure, I could probably hogtie one, or put one in the chute and milk them.  But that is not a relationship, and a relationship is what you have with a family cow.  Good, gentle family cows are solid gold.  Somewhere in all that mulling I decided we would milk her until Jory was of weaning age, eight or nine months, and then have mobile slaughter come and we would put her in the freezer. I slowly came around to the folly of wasting a perfectly healthy animal because of a silly notion that I couldn’t eat her.

I have to say in hindsight, because I didn’t see this coming at all, when I dried Jane up and only fed her twice a day and tended to her basic needs, I was able to create some distance between us. Distance is what I needed.  It started to feel like she was one of my other cows, feed, water, minerals, lather, rinse, repeat.

I had several acquaintances suggest that I keep her, just to avoid the inevitable.  I know they meant well, and coming from a horse culture I see why they would think I would keep a pet cow around since they kept horses until death’s door, all the while complaining about the expense.  But that type of mindset doesn’t sit well with me.  What no one sees from the outside is what a pain in the a$$ keeping an open cow is, they are dangerous. Spaying her was not an option I wanted to pursue either.  Every three weeks Jane would come in heat, and man, you better lookout or she would be riding you.  She varied a day or two on her cycle but if I went out in the morning and her full 100 gallon water trough (800 plus pounds!) was tipped over and shoved through the electric fence, I knew I had 24-36 hours of ridiculousness ahead.  We had left the hay loader in the field and just hadn’t gotten around to moving it, and that became the object of Jane’s desire enough so that she pushed it over humping it, and injured her udder.  Ugh.  I would love whoever writes the vegan propaganda about dairy cows being impregnated (AI) against their will in rape racks (squeeze chute) come a work here for a day when Jane was in heat.  But I digress, we promptly removed the hay loader and prayed for the udder injury to just be a bruise and not something that would possibly make her ill.  She healed but had a swollen quarter that would have been bad had we been able to continue milking her.

I had planned to not overwinter Jane, but as it turned out, the mobile slaughter guy was so booked he couldn’t get here until recently.  At the end Jane was fat and sassy, open and dry, a true retirement for a cow.  She spent the last four months with Jory on pasture, and she died instantly eating a special treat.  I felt her spirit leave her, in the end I felt silly.  How could I have not wanted to be there?  My regrets?  I cut her switch for a keepsake before she died and she looked silly I thought, maybe a little less dignified.  And I should have not bred her for that one last time, seeing her rib cage misshaped when she was but a carcass, I felt selfish putting my needs for a replacement calf from her before her well-being.  Things play out, how they play out.  I could have done all this a year earlier but I just wasn’t up to the task I guess.


“Cuds True”

I heart Jane

I learned a long time ago, with one of my dogs and one of my milk cows to not project my memories of the former on the replacement.  Everyone is different, including dogs and cows.  Jane was not Della, and Jory will not be Jane.  But I am a lucky milkmaid to have had Jane for those 8 short years.  No expectations Jory! Well, maybe just a few.

26 Comments leave one →
  1. stumplifter permalink
    May 1, 2018 6:51 pm

    Thank you for sharing Jane’s story. I can’t even begin to imagine what I might do in the same situation, except my sincere hope and desire to bring as much consciousness and compassion as you have described. You have shared such rich experiences with your readers and I hope that you know how grateful I am for your generosity in sharing the hardest of those in the honest way that you do. I cried when Della left as I have for Mel, Trace, and now for Jane. ♥️

  2. May 1, 2018 7:17 pm

    A lovely story, the circle of life within all of us, keep the memories alive until our circle completes as well.. Thanks

  3. May 1, 2018 8:35 pm

    I so admire your strength and very much appreciate you sharing your thought process on this very hard decision. I struggle with culling a chicken – I can’t imagine how I’m going to handle larger animals.
    You are an inspiration to us all.

  4. Cookie permalink
    May 1, 2018 11:44 pm

    Thank you for filling in the details. I remember looking forward each post to photos of her as she calved, and learning so much. It all makes very good sense.

  5. May 1, 2018 11:50 pm

    Thank you for sharing this. Your experience, insight and honesty are so valuable to those of us who follow you. Thank you.

  6. Carole Castles permalink
    May 2, 2018 2:40 am

    Thank you for taking the time to tell your story. I recently had to put my old Jenny down. She was my first milk cow and taught me so much but she relapsed four days after MF and bloat, 10 weeks into this lactation. We tried everything but she wouldn’t get up and I couldn’t watch her suffer any longer so resorted to the rifle. She went to the ‘drop-off’ for the foxes to finish her because she was sick and full of meds. It was a bad week with the stillbirth of Charolais twins and then the culling of their old mama because her feet were so bad. So hard but ‘if you’ve got livestock, you’ve probably got deadstock’. I have a new heifer to keep Annie company but I shall miss my old Jenny forever.

  7. May 2, 2018 3:59 am

    Damn, I wasn’t going to cry. Oh well, I am a softie. Love you, Jane, Love you Jane’s mom. I’m glad it was instant, we should all die that way, instantly.

  8. Bee permalink
    May 2, 2018 4:40 am

    It’s inevitable – we all have to face this stuff if we want to raise animals the way we should. I’m dreading the old stud’s passing; he’s still healthy and active at 32. I remember talking to a friend once about his dog – it had heartworm and couldn’t be treated. He asked, how do you do it, day in and day out, not just losing your animals but ending their lives? I answered that you cry and you cuss and you grieve and you go on.

    We have a beef cow that didn’t catch this year at 11, and like Jane, she doesn’t owe us a thing. Seven healthy calves without a speck of trouble and just a nice, friendly cow. Considering she started life as a range cow, she’s come a long way. But I don’t have the connection to her I did to Maybelle, or to Maybelle’s last calf, Violet. Bottlefeeding a calf isn’t such a big deal; once they’re weaned you can get some distance. But that daily milking, having them come when you call, licking your boots (don’t have a clue why Maybelle thought they tasted so good!) and all the funny little habits like tongue twisting – you do get very attached.

    You won’t ever lose what you had with Jane, just the physical presence. Some days I swear my old saddle mare is walking right behind me when I’m out in the pasture, waiting for a chance to give me a good shove in the back. Jane got wonderful care and despite her problems, she had a good life. You have Jory and beautiful memories. I salute your courage, Nita, and thank you for letting us share your journey.

  9. Janet Rivera permalink
    May 2, 2018 9:49 am

    Thank you for sharing your thoughts and Jane’s story.

  10. May 2, 2018 3:14 pm

    I am guilty of avoiding a cull, too. In the end, when they do have to go, you remonstrate with why you put it off, for so long. I think that’s completely normal. I’ll miss lovely Jane. But the end, does eventually come to all of us.

  11. treatlisa permalink
    May 2, 2018 7:41 pm

    Appreciate the perspective and sharing your thought process. I will face this hard thing at some point and I look to those who have been through it for wisdom that comes from dealing with real life. Thank you for sharing.

  12. Charity permalink
    May 8, 2018 11:22 am

    Thank you very much for sharing this story and your thinking throughout the whole thing. We read a lot of words every day; most of them are and should be quickly forgotten, but yours generally fall in the treasured “would have taken me 20-30 extra years to figure that out on my own” category. I feel like Jane is a cow that I know, and appreciate that you took the time to tell us about the last part of her life. We’ve never eaten a milk cow yet (though I can imagine scenarios where we would), because, like you said, usually the circumstances have affected the meat, and they have already given us so much. But I really don’t think they’d have begrudged nourishing us in that one more way.

  13. Tracey permalink
    May 9, 2018 12:20 am

    Great to see you back at the blog, and thanks so much for sharing the hard stuff as well as the good times. The hard stuff is where the wisdom is found.

  14. May 10, 2018 5:32 am

    Hugs to you Nita. I know my old Moon is getting thin and frail, she’s something like 11 now. I’d like to try for one more heifer off of her, but I doubt she is physically able to even cycle now. I hope Jory turns out to be all you wish and more.

    • May 10, 2018 6:00 am

      Thanks! Poor Moon, I wish we could have those good old girls longer 😦 I hope Jory turns out good too. So far, she has her mom’s personality so we’ll see.

      • May 15, 2018 10:55 am

        I have a bull in the tank to use, he’s calving ease, and stamps some nice dairy frames on his calves. I’m hoping for a heifer if I can get her to take

  15. May 11, 2018 9:16 am

    I put off reading this post, Nita, because I was sure you would put into words what I feel but can’t face yet. Our sweet Maisey didn’t catch last year and she had a hard winter. AT 12 years young, I think this is her last. So she will spend this last summer eating our lush pasture with her son while I get my guts up to do what is right by her. She served us so well that she deserves a swift end. I’m not looking forward to fall.

    • May 11, 2018 3:36 pm

      Oh, I’m so sorry. It’s tough I am not going to lie about it. You guys had a brutal winter too, I always wonder how the cows can stand it, just waiting out the time until spring. Best of luck with your decision 😦

  16. May 13, 2018 3:11 am

    Farming is not for the faint of heart.

  17. May 24, 2018 1:28 pm

    Glad you’re back. Sorry about Jane but we do what we have to. Sometimes it is really, really hard. I don’t know if I will be able to put down my milk cow when the time comes but I’m sure your story will help me when the time comes.

  18. Ben permalink
    May 26, 2018 8:51 pm

    Good to read your writing again.

  19. Kimberly permalink
    June 30, 2018 8:09 am

    It’s comforting to know other more seasoned farmers like yourself struggle with these feelings. I put a lot of money and time into exporting a heifer from Canada to the States on our move, only because she was raised by my favourite cow and has her sweet personality. (She isn’t even related to her) But It was the only connection I would have with my Fancy once we moved. Taking Fancy with us wasn’t an option. Now that I created that “distance” as you explained from Fancy, I see what a waste of money it was to take a heifer so far. Some lessons are hard learned.

  20. July 2, 2018 11:42 am

    I can only imagine how hard this was for you. I want a family cow, but if the time came…Thank you for sharing your story. Gives me a lot to consider.

  21. July 5, 2018 11:30 am

    I’m glad to see you back blogging, even if the ending is sad news. It is amazing how the gut instinct can tell you so much. I guess you are busy again as this post was in May, but hey, it’s summer and there are things to do.

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