Learning from your mistakes



These are my cows, Jack and Duchess, meeting a puppy. This post isn’t about them. It’s about Bea, a cow I learned life’s lessons on.  I’m not sure why I didn’t take any of the cow I tried to rehabilitate except that I probably didn’t want to get too attached to her.  I made many mistakes with this one and feel foolish even sharing this except that if any of you are tempted to go down this road it may make you think twice.

An add for a cow is what started this whole thing. I love my cows, as many of you know. I spent lots of time with my Aunt and Uncle and cousin Cheryl on a dairy farm growing up. I was actually born on one but was little enough when we left the farm that I don’t remember much. My mother recently told me that as a very tiny two and three year old she would find me in the paddock all curled up on one of the cows. I guess I’ve always had it in my blood so when I saw an add for this cow I called. Cheap should have been my first warning sign. Craigslist the other but a girl with a passion can’t be easily dissuaded.  I called. Seems this girl was a six year old which is a great age for a milk cow for a family farm. She had been a nurse cow, warning number three, and the owner, and 88 year old man had pulled three calves from her and hadn’t been able to keep up with her milking, warning number four. A neighbor took her off his hands and we brought her home.  The trip was very stressful for her. She was weak and testy and having none of our attention. She wasn’t electric fence savvy and broke right through and ran into the woods. That is bad enough but it was dark by the time we got her unloaded and into the paddock. Rounding up a cow in the dark in the woods when you are in your late fifties is no fun and games but what are you going to do? Put on your big girl pants, grab a flashlight and go for it.

The first bad sign was trying to milk her out that evening. She was impossible. All the signs of mastitis were evident, especially in one quarter. Cows have a let down reflex to let the milk flow and, because of stress, she wasn’t willing to let us have it. Long story short, she never did give us much milk and what she did have was terrible. We called the vet. He gave her medication, checked her for pregnancy, which fortunately she wasn’t, and we waited. We tried everything including medication to get her to milk out but she was weak and thin, not eating well and getting lethargic. She showed no signs of pneumonia but was medicated. It was sad to see how it was going and feeling like we were doing everything we could to save her. There comes a time though that you know what the outcome will be and the next morning, after two weeks of trying, we knew.

I went out to the field to do the morning feed and there she was, laying on her side head down on the ground. Most of you may not know that once a cow gets down and can’t get back up on their own they very quickly give up. I was home alone. I had no idea what to do. I had never driven the tractor but knew I needed to get her turned around so her head wasn’t downhill and Phill was an hour away. Panic makes you incredibly resourceful. I figured out our old 1957 tractor, got it into the field and turned around, strapped her feet and pulled her around so she was in the right direction, praying, crying and feeling so incapable. She wasn’t going to make it. I knew that in my heart but it wasn’t going to be for lack of love or trying.

Phill made it home. Hearing your wife screaming and crying in the phone will get you home in record time. We were able to get her feet under her an prop her up with hay bales to make her more comfortable but couldn’t get her to eat or drink. She was always very thin from nursing three calves but she just sort of withered away. I covered her with horse blankets and let her go through the night.  The next morning our neighbor came and put her down and took her away.  It was a very kind thing for him to do. No one wants to do that.

Lessons I learned.

You can’t save everything. Learn to walk away and trust your instincts. The outcome of this cow would probably have been the same whether I tried or not and the financial and emotional stress would have been spared.

Lesson number two. Don’t buy animals from undocumented backgrounds. The second party in this, the neighbor, knew much more than he was willing to tell me. I understand that now. The calves had been removed much longer than he had stated for her to have been this sick.

Lesson number three. Take on only that for which you are prepared. I haven’t had cows long enough to be able to tell which cows I can take a risk on and which ones I can’t. I have a very good vet that took one look at that cow and said, not in so many words, “What were you thinking”. He came out twice and was willing to do whatever we needed but gave me good advice when it came time to cutting my losses. I am grateful.

Lesson number four. When  you are in extenuating circumstances you become strong in ways you never knew. Is it sad that she went through all of this? Of course. But I learned I could handle an emergency with an animal eight times my size. I learned I could drive the tractor without tearing down the barn or running over a fence. I learned I could make the hard call when the time came and live with the outcome. I learned I am stronger than I give myself credit for.

Lesson number five. I learned I have a patient, kind, strong, dedicated husband who is allowing me to grow into being a farmer without judgement, condemnation or fear. He was with me all the way. He has not held my poor, initial decision against me or reminded me of it once. He felt my pain and comforted me. He reminded me that life is a journey of growing and that only with mistakes can we learn and grow. I am blessed.

We will, probably get another cow someday. For now I will love on my girl, Duchess, and my silly steer Jack and wait for the day I learn what it’s like to let go of a boy  you have raised knowing he will one day nourish our family and in the mean time, I’ll go give Duchess her favorite treat of a banana and Jack a handful of kale from the greenhouse and be content that God has given me this great family, farm and life.

Thanks for listening.


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