Friday, September 8, 2017

The walk of shame

I was getting married in three days. My nails were done. They looked so nice. My soon to be husband was feeding for me so that I could stay pristine (the struggle is REAL), and I just had to go and ruin it. How do you ask? Oh, let me tell you the tale:

I stopped by the farm to drop some wedding stuff off and glanced at the fencer. The tiny check mark that symbolizes a short was flashing with a vengeance. Tick, tick, #itch. You’ve got a problem. I walked around to see if the weaned calves had shorted the fence out again, a somewhat frequent occurrence given my substandard fence building skills. They hadn’t, but as I did a quick head count I noticed a problem, where oh where was lucky number 16? I walked around the fence, my capri pants and slip on shoes not giving me much protection from the weeds and mud. It had rained the night before and was looking to do so again, and soon. Because of course it was. Why the F not. This stuff never happens when it is 70 degrees and sunny.

I saw the heifer grazing by herself in the top rotational paddock, fortunately the main herd was on the other side of the rotation (which happens to be seven parallel paddocks that run perpendicular to an aisle down a hill – important later). With a heavy sigh, and a quick glance up at the oncoming clouds I entered the paddock and began to give chase. It should have been easy. She fell out of the fence, so she should jump right back in, right? Wrong. She ran to the corner and I gently urged her back with her friends. She ran past me, and I panicked thinking that she might run out to rejoin the herd (to become her future calf’s sister mom if her daddy had anything to say about it – she is starting to be “that age” when a bull starts to notice her sweet brown eyes… anyways…)

I ran to cut her off, and running is not my thing. We repeated the run about a hundred times. Back and forth. Back and forth. I got a stitch in my side. My aggravation with the situation started to ratchet up. She started bellering with all her considerable lung capacity – “Mrrrroooo MrrrrroooooOooo!” I started yelling back, “Go back to your new herd you stupid heifer!” It kept up. I got more pissed by the minute. Sweat was running down my back, weeds were cutting my legs, and the mother flipping sonnofabitching heifer was NOT cooperating. Ugh. 

The main herd started to pay attention. I panicked and yelled: “Stop calling for your mother! She doesn’t love you anymore! She has a new baby now!” I chased her back towards the fence. Hell, I even grabbed the fence and laid it down for her, but of course, she wouldn’t go through. The rest of the calves came up and thought about coming out, but this basic B would not cross the freaking fence.

I grabbed my phone as the thunder rolled. “Eric, we have a calf out.” “No I can’t get her in. Don’t you think I tried that?” Frustration gave me what I like to think was an edge to my voice like Liam Neeson in Taken or something, instead I am pretty sure it came off as hysteria. Which was not what I was going for. He said he was on his way, so I started out to try to find the short, at dusk with no flashlight and the rain starting to come down. My legs quickly became covered with seed heads as I wandered along the perimeter fence checking each insulator to see if it was off. I reached the paddock with the cows and my usually docile animals decided to channel their inner buffalo and started charging en masse at me. My inner voice mumbled, “This is it. I’m going to die here.” 

I plodded along, too pissed to care, as the herd milled around me with murder on their mind. I finished my perimeter check, still finding no short and no power to the fence and started walking along the top end of the paddock when Eric called. He was here, where was I? I started trudging up towards the gate. Surely if I wasn’t in the aisle the cows would just stay down here and eat like good cows. Oh, but no.

I was about halfway up the hill when I heard them start to come, hooves sucking in the slick clay as they headed for the top of the aisle, where their presence would cause the calf to break out of the paddock and rejoin them. I couldn’t let that happen. I fell to the ground and shimmied under the “dead” fence, only to have it light up the wet back of my shirt while I was on my belly in the mud and shock the ever loving muck out of me. Which of course caused me to spasm and throw myself out of my army crawl into an ungainly sprawl right in the middle of a couple piles of manure. I leapt to my feet, wiped God knows what off my face and sprinted for a slinky gate to hold the herd back. I made it just in time. I mean, just in time. I no sooner got the gate pulled taut than the herd skidded to an angry stop.

I slogged up the hill, my feet slipping out from under me with every other step. The rain wasn’t coming down hard enough to wash me off, just hard enough to turn everything into a God damned mess. I got to the top of the hill and glowered at Eric, who had the good grace not to laugh in my face as I explained what happened. Which was wise. I would have probably attacked. Frustration does not bring out the best in me. My grandma would be so ashamed.

We got to work with the heifer. Again we went back and forth, back and forth. I noticed that I wasn’t the only one frustrated now when I saw Eric’s iPhone “flashlight” spin off into the night as he winged it at the heifer when she ran past him. He started to yell obscenities. 

“I told her her mama doesn’t love her anymore.” I added to the string helpfully as he ran by. It was dark so I couldn’t see his look of what I am sure was appreciation. He jogged past me and the 50’ span of fence I had laid down so the heifer could go through. Her little calf friends were all lined up on their side of the fence, so I couldn’t leave my post or EVERYONE would be out. I watched the bouncing light run circles around the paddock after the heifer, and I patrolled my man made hole in the fence.

My phone rang; my buddy John had called. “Call you back. Cow out.” Click.

After another fifteen minutes, or years – it felt like years, we got her back in. Eric left to go finish feeding and I called John back and started relating my tale to him as I tried to make it down the giant slip and slide that was the aisle without falling down again  in order to release the herd from containment. His response? “Well, I had called to complain, but I can’t do that now.” Yeah, that’s right John. You ever want to feel better about your life choices? Call me. Call me when the cows are out and it is now ten o’clock at night and I have freshly manicured nails that are now shoved full of manure and clay and I haven’t had dinner, and I am covered in literal shit and have to drive home. In my freshly cleaned car. That I have to ride in in my wedding dress. Can we all just say muck with a capital F? Hmm?

So I of course do what anyone would do and strip down to my bra and underwear to drive home so I don’t get my car dirty. Which is fine, and a great plan until I get to the bottom of the driveway and see the gates. Which I have to close. That are next to a highway, with traffic.

And my bra and panties don’t even match…

So I wait for a lull in the traffic and run out to try to shut one gate, and dart back in the car so that I don’t get slapped with some sort of public indecency ticket; and the freaking gate falls off one hinge. So I am wrestling with a shitty gate, in the rain, half covered in mud and manure, in my bra, trying to not be seen by neighbors or oncoming traffic.


And THAT ladies and gentlemen, is how a farmer does a walk of shame.

Thursday, August 3, 2017

A Farmer's Nightmare

I’m surrounded by towering cornstalks. Their bright green is just starting to fade into the gold of late summer, and they sway in the slight breeze. Their itchy leaves leave welts on my bare arms when I shove past, lost in their depths. The bright sun beats down from above making the welts sting with sweat, and my shirt plaster itself like a second skin across my body. I pause, trying desperately to get my bearings.

Rustle, rustle, rustle.

What was that? I spin in circles trying to find where the noise came from, but every time I think I find it, it comes from somewhere else.

Whuff. Rustle, rustle, rustle.

I raise my arms to protect my face and charge deeper into the corn field. I don’t know if I am running towards the noise, or away from it. Off to my right something snorts. Is it a deer, or something else? Something more sinister?

Rustle, rustle, rustle. CRASH! Mrrrrrrreeeeh. 

The sound is closer, so I run harder. Leaves whip through my hair and I stumble blindly forward. I trip in a divot of bare dirt and sprawl in the narrow gap between the rows. What was that? I think I see black figures darting at the very edge of my perception. I stand up and keep running, heedless of the itching. Heedless of the pain. All I know is the pounding panic of my heart.

I burst into an opening in the once tightly planted field, and there I see it. Shit, shit, shit! This can’t be happening! But it is. My worst nightmare.

The whole f-ing herd of cows is there, swirling together like a giant black snake ball of destruction. Trampled cornstalks peak their broken limbs up through churned mud and manure. Everywhere around me are half bitten corn cobs hanging sadly from once proud plants. If only it was a dream, but I know it isn’t as the itching and welts register. I am no longer filled with panic, nay; but with the righteous wrath of a long dead Greek hero. 

Rage brave Achilles. RAGE.

I grab a broken stalk and swing my weapon wide and the massive black vortex of devastation whirls on me. Their cries sound like those of dinosaurs, not soft moos, but angry ones reminiscent of noises that I have only heard from the Jurassic Park movies. “Mrrrrroooeeeehhhhh”

I summon what strength I have left and charge, my battle cry pierces the air with the power of a hunting hawk’s scream. “WHAT THE F DO YOU THINK YOU’RE DOING?!?! GET YOUR ASSES BACK IN THE FENCE!” The bull turns at me and bellows out a challenge, but I don’t care that he is nearly 3,000lbs and could easily kill me, this is about principle dammit. If I die this day it is with honor!

I bellow back at him and charge, “I SAID GOOOOO!” I brandish my cornstalk and swing it in one mighty stroke to fell the beast. It doesn’t work, but it does swat him across his massive black butt and breaks off in my hand. He leaps forward towards whatever twisted cattle path his herd created to escape the confines of the pasture, my prowess obviously intimidates him enough that he forgets all thoughts of challenge. The rest of the herd surges forward: a dark arrow that pours out of the field and twists towards a tiny path wending its way through a wood.

Not one to let my enemy away that easily I grab a stick and make a second charge. “Get back there! You don’t belong here! Go home! Go home!”

I chase them back through the hole they must have dug out to get out of the fence. It is most definitely not a new ditch just due to natural erosion, but was created by the herd in a devious and willful attempt to escape me and cause damage to the neighbor’s crops. 

Their reasoning? So that he would get pissed, and I don't know, destroy the rest of the fences to liberate them maybe? Take them into his cornfields so that they might not starve with their not so meager rations of grass and alfalfa hay? Call the DCFS (Department of Cow and Farm Services) on me for refusing to feed them grain? (Obviously I need an informant on the inside to discern their true motives here.) Their heinous plot very nearly went unnoticed until it was too late. 

I stab my stick down decisively into the soft earth as a barrier and stare at their retreating backs with my hands on my hips. I will reinforce this place, and they shall not escape again. No. Not this way...

I will hold the north fence until my dying breath, or until I get way too itchy from the massive quantities of seed ticks that I am now covered in and I have to go shower. Or a tree falls on it. That could happen too.

This is a fear we carry with us every day, a life with a constant battle of wills and wiles. A vigil that we must maintain. This is, a farmer's nightmare.

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Rootbound

“Build a life you don’t need a vacation from.” That phrase haunts me from its whimsical background as I scroll through FaceBook. Sometimes it is plastered over a beach chair, sometimes it is in fake cursive over a mountain top. The meme sparkles in its simplicity, and I hate it.

I am a business person. I am a farmer. I am a woman with a Great Pyrenees that acts as a reverse Swiffer sweeper and deposits piles of dust throughout my house. Many times I am exhausted. I am brain dead; mentally checked out from a life of constant worry over water levels and pasture rotation, and do we have groceries for tonight, or laundry done for tomorrow? Did I get all the invoicing caught up this afternoon, what should I write in a blog for work’s website?

I think it is the story of the modern farmer to live and breathe a never ending checklist of important tasks in rotation. Most of us have to work a 8-5 job in addition to the farm to make ends meet. I would say that is doubly so as a woman farmer, but that could just be my perspective because Captain America could care less about the dirt on the floor and whether or not the counters are clean at nine o’clock when we roll in from feeding everyone after working our 8-5 jobs and start our dinner. I still care and will numbly fold laundry while the oven preheats or I’ll wash a couple dishes while the Keurig whirs. Given all this, you might think then that I crave vacations as a break from the constant stress, but I don’t.

I crave them for novelty.

I become root bound in my little pot of processes that I do day in and day out. I curl in on myself in a constant stream of chores that I try to perform more and more efficiently every day, until exhaustion and compassion fatigue obscure why I chose this life in the first place. I need to be uprooted. I need to be taken out of my tight little space and have myself gently stretched out into the wide world so that when I get planted again I have room to grow, room to appreciate everything again.

Image by Keith Williamson. Click here to learn more.

I went to the beach with girl friends for a few days, and while I was SUPER stressed about leaving everything I am SO glad that I did. I came back and I am rejuvenated.

Fence down? Eh, no problem. Have you seen how gorgeous the sky is today? Wow, just talk about blue.
Can’t find a new calf? Aren’t they great hiders? Man, it is so nice to wander around the woods looking in all these little hidey holes. This is such a cool tree! Hey, are those blackberries?
New calf was actually out in the yard? Aw! Isn’t he adorable? Breaking through fences already and he isn’t even 24 hours old! You’re a precocious little buddy, aren’t ya?

Folks, even hammering in fence posts becomes an enjoyable act when I have been away from it for a while. CA and I spent Sunday afternoon starting in on the fences for the rotational grazing program that we are implementing and I was humming, laughing, and turning it into a rousing game of “how many thumps of the t-post driver does it take” that I didn’t mind consistently losing. I loved every exhausting minute of it. 

God, it is good to be home!

Oh, and we did manage to get the new baby back in the fence with minimal bruising. (On CA's part, not the calf's.)


Wednesday, May 3, 2017

The Great Wheatlage Debacle of 2017

CA and I argued over the best way to utilize the wheat that we planted just to keep the hillside from eroding over the winter because the beans didn't come out until almost October and everyone said that that was too late to plant grass seed then. Well, except for my dad who didn't chime in on the subject until after it was too late to plant the grass seed and use the wheat to protect it. Which was brilliant, and would have worked SWIMMINGLY, but we didn't know. 

Dad also suggested using a slit seeder to plant the grass over the wheat, but no one that I could find had one big enough to plant 40 acres with; but that was okay because Mark (the professional farmer who rents my parent's row crop ground) said that what we really needed to do was frost seed it anyway. Which was great, except that you do that in January, and it was February already; oh and BTW, didn't you know? You really need to plant grass seed in August, not the spring. And definitely not just disk up the wheat and plant it in grass like I had discussed with him in the fall.

So, CA and I are staring at the lovely wheat field with tiny baby grass and clover being choked out by the foot high wheat and we get the idea to hay it since using it as pasture would hurt the new grass. (Which I have to baby the shit out of because it was planted too late.) So we think about, and agree that haying it is the way to go. Even though neither of us has ever seen anyone bale wheat before as anything other than straw. The farmer's hereabouts usually either let it go and harvest it or spray it with a desiccant and plant over it.


It is April and too wet to technically hay it, so we will have to rent or borrow someone's equipment to "haylage" it. Which is where you take wet grass and bale it, and then wrap it in plastic wrap to let it ferment and become silage. It requires heavier duty balers as well as a special bale wrapper. So I call up Mark and ask him if he knows anyone who might be able to rent our their equipment or possibly just pay to bale and wrap it.

And wouldn't you know? According to Mark wheatlage is great for cows and the dairy he used to work at always made wheatlage. But he hadn't shared that information with me previously, I guess presuming that I knew with some innate farmer wisdom in my blood that wheatlage would be cow crack. I didn't spend weeks thinking I must be crazy, because I had never seen this done before. No, not at all. That didn't happen.

You know, everyone talks about the barriers to entry of farming and they always talk about how damned expensive it is or how hard land is to get, and that is 100% true; but sweet mother of God what about this awesome pool of knowledge that isn't being shared? 


I read articles where authors are chastising my generation of farmers for treating permaculture and other farming practices as things that they just discovered and I get it. We are a bunch of egotistical millennials. Perhaps we do have a lofty idea of ourselves, but do you want to know why we feel like we just discovered the best farming practice ever? That we must be the originator? Because no one is telling us about them. In many cases we are having to constantly reinvent the wheel, and we shouldn't be.

I have grown up on a farm. I have great mentors and resources at my disposal and I still feel like I am having to pass some sort of weird initiation where all these older farmers are testing my farming instincts in order to give access to their knowledge. I can't even imagine how hard it is for my peers who haven't been blessed with that background. It seriously wouldn't surprise me if I happen to slop my way up a mountain sized pile of cow manure to talk to some old timer about my sea kelp research only to have him tell me that it is great and he has been using it since 1975. Well h-e-double hockey sticks, why didn't I know that already?

All humor aside though fellas, I know you're not doing this on purpose; but please realize that "you don't know what you don't know" and the next generation of farmers needs you to teach us. Desperately. Yes, some of us (myself included) have weird a$$ ideas about grassfed, and organics; but those things don't change the basic knowledge that you can share. We need you to have a conversation with us. When we tell you in September that we want to plant grass seed, instead of just saying that it is to late, tell us about cover crops that could work. Or try something like, "Hey, you know cows, but you don't know much about row cropping. You just said you are worried about erosion, have you thought about this annual crop (corn/soy/sudan grass/freaking rutabagas) that we could plant after the winter wheat; but have out before August so that you can plant the grass for your future hayfield in the best time frame? I know you want forage for the cows. How about wheatlage? Cows freaking LOVE wheatlage."

And you guys and gals, the next generation, my generation? Don't discount others just because they're using Round-Up and spreading nitrogen. Don't turn off your ears the minute you hear row-crop. They have been doing this a long time and just because they don't farm the way you and I do/want to doesn't mean that they don't know what they are doing, or that all of their knowledge is somehow flawed. It is time that we all stepped up to the table and swapped stories. The agriculture community as a whole will be much better off because of it if we do.

Me? I think I'm going to start hanging out at the local Farm Bureau's pinochle night, or maybe Hardee's at breakfast, and hope that I might overhear something new. If nothing else at least the great wheatlage debacle of 2017 did do one thing. It showed me how much I don't know.

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Horse Heaven

When I was 13 we had a mare with a dummy foal. I can remember loading Cash in the trailer and mom and I putting the pretty little chestnut filly in the bed of the truck to rush her to the closest equine specialist we knew - two hours away. I laid next to that baby, soothing her as much as I could with touch and voice until I could barely keep my head up. If I sit and think about it I can still feel the texture of her baby fuzz against my forehead.

There, I dreamed.

She and I were in a large meadow so lush and beautiful that there aren't words capable of describing its verdance. We stood, or rather knelt, on one side of a crystal clear stream; it wasn't very wide, but it burbled and sang better than any sound machine I've ever heard. Across from us, dotting the greenery like exotic flowers, were horses of every shape, size, and color. They grazed and frolicked with joy that still brings tears to my eyes.

As the filly, Hope, tried to stand one horse peeled off and trotted up to us. He whickered encouragingly at her, with his silken black mane streaming. At the time I didn't recognize the kind of loving sounds a mare makes to her baby when it is first born, but I do now. I sat there in a stupor as she rose on her wobbly little legs and stretched towards that shining ebony stallion, but then I gathered my wits and called her back. I told her about her mama, and what we were trying to do to help her and she came back to me.

Then I woke up. I don't know why. I talked to my mom for a few minutes, and again laid my head down on her neck. 

I was instantly right back by the stream. Hope had wandered closer to it in my absence, but I called her back again. The stallion stood patiently, nickering and whinnying at her in a language that, like many "horse people," I've always wished I could know. 

But there I knew. He was calling her to his side of that brook just like I kept calling her to mine. He had the deepest brown eyes, so full of love and compassion. It is weird to remember them so clearly after so long.

I repeated the process of waking and dreaming three more times before I fell back asleep on her rapidly stilling body. She had crossed the stream then, while I was away and didn't call her back; she was running and playing with all the ease that she should have had in life. Many of the horses greeted and groomed her just like they would an old herd mate - nuzzling and nibbling on her beautifully arched little neck. I wanted to call her back again, to beg her to come back to me, but I couldn't bring myself to take her away from such happiness.

I watched that herd for what felt like forever, their sleek coats reflected the bright sunlight, all of them were in prime condition, and perfectly happy munching grasses amongst the wildflowers and shade trees. I came to think of it as my brush with heaven, and after that dying (which had terrified me before) wasn't so scary anymore.

I came home at lunch and found Gymmy, one of the horses, down. He had a freak accident earlier today that broke his ankle and had to be euthanized.

Gymnasium Joe, I'm going to miss your cantankerous soul and so will your herd mates, but I can only pray that you crossed that stream happily and are gamboling your giant heart out in a body that won't fail you now.


RIP big boy. Say hi to everyone for me.

Morning Ruminations...

When I was in high school I absolutely HATED getting up an extra hour early so that I could feed and water horses before I went to class. There were even mornings that I would feed everyone and then take a nap in the tack room while they were eating. I am pretty sure that there is still a cup and spoon in there from where I ate my cereal on the fly and washed it out, but could spare there extra two minutes to walk it back to the house because that would mean getting up two minutes earlier.

While I’m still bad about not changing shoes after I feed, much to the chagrin of my housekeeper – me, I have found myself greeting the mornings with a lot more ardor lately. Why may that be?

Well, the majority of the cows now live in Illinois! Can I get a whoo hoo?


That was an ordeal in and of itself. The highlights? Watching a calf magically turn boneless and wriggle under the catch pen like a gigantic furry eel. Roping the same calf with the skill of a kindergarten mutton buster and trying desperately to hold onto him long enough for CA to move the trailer into place so he could ship with his mama. It was like a bad version of Gulliver’s Travels – the lariat wound around my legs and threatened to topple me over while I was hauling back on an enraged calf that was lunging away from me like a hound of hell. I’m pretty sure he turned into the Hulk. Like 90% sure. He should not have been that strong… And then there is 32, also known affectionately as “Hateful B!tch.” HB got that nickname from the guy at the sale barn, and boy, has it proven to be true. Not only did she run through panels a few times to escape the move. She ran through me, kicked me as she went by, and then sailed over three fences with skills that I have seen 17 hand thoroughbred hunter jumpers envy. I wasn’t sure if I should be pissed, or just impressed honestly. I’m still not. Thank God she jumped in with the neighbor’s herd. It took them a couple days to catch her and even then she tried to go through people, 6” gaps between trailers, trailer windows… you know, anything. She charges the side of the trailer if I walk by. She has an appointment with the processor because I’m not sure that any fence we have will hold her, and I don’t really want to have calves that are that crazy. Plus, you know what they say: hate is the best sauce… that B is going to be delicious.

Anywho, now that the cows live over here it means I have an hour of watering to do over at my grandpa’s place before I go to work in the morning. I am consistently surprised that I love it. I don’t know what happened to 14 year old me and my avoiding getting up early for any reason, because here I am sitting on a rock pile SnapChatting cow pictures to my friends as I wait for the troughs to fill.

When your friend posts a picture because they look good (Panda),
 and don't really care about how dumb you look (Bertha Mae).

Now if only I could make myself use chore boots. I still freaking hate vacuuming. Perhaps I’m not so different than I was at 14 after all.

Tuesday, November 1, 2016

I pretty much spent my summer becoming an alternative cow vet.

Well, you may have noticed that I have been pretty much MIA for most of the summer. That is partially because I’ve got like 10 hours of mowing a week to do (when I haven’t broken the mower repeatedly – but more on that later), and partially because this summer has put me through an emotional wringer and I haven’t been able to share it until now. As you might assume being on a farm brings me into frequent contact with death so perhaps one would think that I would be immune to the pains of it, but I am most definitely not.

Early this summer Sweetie Pie calved again. What you probably don’t know, because I didn’t tell you, was that her calf from last year (Honey Bunch) died and I couldn’t figure out why. Despite being treated by a veterinarian I felt like I had failed her, that if I had just done something differently or noticed something sooner I could have fixed it.

So, when SP calved and the sweet little heifer was just another red calf I was disappointed. I know. The fact that she looked like everyone else shouldn’t have mattered, but I still wanted a redo, and the fact that she looked nothing like my darling Bunches hurt more than I care to admit.

Long story short, Captain America milked SP for a few days but with the distance between us and his work and haying schedule that wasn’t a good long term plan so we started searching for another bottle calf to put on her (since she makes too much milk for one calf to eat and it can lead to health problems to leave her with that much pressure in her bag). He found a beautiful little Charolais heifer off of a Facebook group, and I instantly fell in love even though the guy who had her mentioned to CA that she was “tenderfooted.”

Tenderfooted, my right buttcheek. When CA brought her home she was a textbook case for joint ill; in all four joints, and her navel. I insisted that we name her Sugar, and SP’s calf Cinnamon. My world revolved around her.

What followed was roughly two months of being told that vets “don’t treat joint ill in calves,” “just euthanize her,” and “I could do something if she was a horse.” Bovine discrimination is STRONG, ya’ll.

So I Googled, and read Plum’s and Merck’s, and when they didn’t tell me what I wanted to hear I read books on alternative treatments and got her an acupuncturist (whose treatment protocol included Chinese herbal medication that actually did A LOT to help her). I borrowed my mom’s therapeutic laser and gave her photon therapy every other day alongside the acupuncture, Chinese herbs, probiotics, astragalus & Echinacea, conventional antibiotics, and milk thistle (to prevent liver damage from the conventional antibiotics). I soaked her in Epsom salt baths. I gave her Reiki. I sang to her while she ate (even when she was eating at 3:30 in the morning, because by God that baby needed me so I was up and cheerful about it). I chased her around with a fan during the hot days and carried sauce pans of water to wherever she was laying. I took a thousand pictures of her beautiful little nose. I drove her hours to try (and fail) to get her treatment, and finally cajoled our regular vet into opening up on of her joints. He was amazed at how bright she was and how good her joints looked despite everything.

I started making plans for how to do bovine physical therapy to help her stand and walk more easily and looking into long term options for arthritis care.

Then at 6:30 one morning she started making a very distressed sound, which was odd because she had never even mooed at me. She started to bloat even before I could get her loaded in my car. I rushed her to the vet, but she was dead before he got there. She either threw a blood clot in her lung or had an abscess burst and died in my lap in the backseat while we sat in the parking lot.

I was, and still am incredibly torn up about it.

About a month later CA called me in a panic because Sweetie Pie was down and he thought she was dying. We hauled water to pour over her to cool her down while the emergency vet was on her way. She had no clue what was wrong with her, but treated her for low blood calcium (milk fever). She couldn’t stand on her own; so mom and dad (bless them!) drove a sling made for lifting horses and cows over at 9 pm on a Friday night (they didn’t get home from that trip until like 2 am). We lifted her up and hung her off the front end loader periodically for about two weeks before she started standing on her own again. We gave her tubes of CMPK, probiotics, antibiotics, and I force fed her baking soda thinking that maybe it was acidosis.

Then about three weeks ago she started having bloody diarrhea. I begged CA to bring her over to my house and I got her some sulfa, more probiotics, keto gel, more CMPK, power punch, different types of wormer, and everything else you could think of to give a dairy cow who was showing signs of either an infection of her digestive tract or ketosis. She got better after two days and I poured the grain and alfalfa hay to her. She ate great for a week and then started feeling sickly again. As of last week I was buying spinach, arugula, and baby kale for her because she acted like everything else was making her nauseated. She passed peacefully on Friday afternoon - laying on a pile of straw in the sunshine.

Her blood work came back Thursday. She had Bovine Leukosis, a disease that upwards of 40% (depending on which study you look at) of dairy cows in the Midwest are infected with. Some are asymptomatic, but when a cow does exhibit symptoms it is fatal. It is also probably what killed Honey Bunch. There is no treatment or prevention available. The only good news is that it is only spread through blood and, in limited instances, milk or perhaps by biting flies(the sources I have read weren’t 100% positive on that). We will be testing to make sure that no one else has it. Fortunately we don’t reuse needles or dehorn, which can spread the disease pretty quickly. (For more information look here.)

Even more fun? The DNA of the virus has been found in human breast cancer tissue. They aren’t positive how it got there yet, but I would expect there to be more studies on it in the next few years. The things they don’t tell you before you go buy a milk cow, huh?

Another fun test came back today. Sweetie was Johne’s disease positive too. That one, again, is fatal in ruminants that exhibit symptoms. Many dairy cows carry it, and it is much easier to spread than the Leukosis. I swear. I’m going to have to set up a go fund me page to be able to test everyone for all of these things. 

I love that cow, but I really, really wish that someone somewhere would have told me about all of this before I got a milk cow. We followed regular protocols for including a new cow in the herd – you know, keep them separate for a few weeks and look for signs of disease. When they don’t show any signs of anything you toss them out in the pasture, and in my case inadvertently introduce the cow version of Typhoid Mary to the herd. 

Going forward I implore you to learn from my mistakes. Make sure that any bottle calves you bring home have had colostrum and watch their temperatures very closely. If they start going up don’t mess around with antibiotics. Call your vet and try some Baytril – or  Excenel. There is a pretty good protocol listed here. You’re going to need a broad spectrum solution, and seriously if you have a vet locally who does Chinese medicine too, the herbs helped Sugar considerably. I can’t say they broke her fever, but about a day and a half after she got them she had a normal temperature for the first time in weeks. 

If you are interested in getting a back yard milk cow please talk to your vet about getting a test for Bovine Leukosis and Johnes disease before you bring your baby home. Many cows are asymptomatic for all of their lives, but if they aren’t it is very likely that they will die before age 10, and in some situations they can pass it along to other healthy ruminants. Forewarned is forearmed. 

Oh, and if you have a Grasshopper mower with the rear discharge NEVER BACK UP. You crinkle the metal like tissue paper and blow grass clippings directly towards the engine. And if you do figure out that a crinkled guard is the problem, don’t put a new on on and then back up AGAIN thinking that it had to be a fluke. It. Is. Not. 

It has been that kind of summer.


Sweetie Pie, the day we brought her home.
Sugar, getting her electropuncture.