I thought it’d be a good idea to introduce you to our animals in a segment I’m calling, “Meet & Greet.” We plan on adding to our herd/flock/pack/drove/fold, so this is just the beginning. For the inaugural post, I’d like to introduce you to our sweet cow Bessie and her calf, Coffee.
A few years ago I decided that I’d like to have a milk cow. So I turned to the place I get almost everything: Craigslist! I’m telling you, all good things come from Craigslist, including milk cows.
After finding Bessie on Craigslist, I needed a way to get her home. She was living with a nice little family in a neighboring state a few hours away. We found a cattle hauler that had an empty trailer headed right by Bessie’s house. The guy thought I was completely nuts for wanting him to pick up one, single, solitary cow and bring her home. Usually their loads are full. I assured him that, yes, I did want him to pick up just one cow.
As a former City Girl, this plan seemed fool proof:
Step 1: Find Milk Cow on Craigslist
Step 2: Haul Milk Cow Home
Step 3: Frolic off into the sunset swinging my milk pail sloshing with fresh milk
Here’s how things actually happened:
After Bessie arrived, she had an adorable baby calf named Theo. Every night right before sunset, when he was still small enough to fit through the slats in the fence, Theo would run wild and free. He would jump and kick and dart all over. At first, I thought we needed to catch him and put him back in the fence, but I was assured that sometimes calves do this. Pretty hilarious, right? Even calves go through the terrible twos.
It proved more challenging than I thought it would be, to “milk share,” with Bessie and her calf Theo. Milk-sharing is milking a cow who is also nursing her calf. I did a lot of research before she calved, and was pretty confident that I could make it work, although some farmers say it isn’t possible. However, in all my preparation I didn’t know that I’d be very pregnant with my first baby about the same time she’d be milking.
Bessie was kind and patient with me as I tried to learn to milk her by hand. I had a knowledgeable neighboring farmer come show me the ropes. He made it look so easy.
Bessie and I never found our milking groove but we did share some pretty tender moments.
One sweet moment that I’ll never forget was walking out in the pasture visiting Bessie and feeling hugely pregnant. She came up to me and gently put her forehead to my round belly and just held it there. I can still feel her warmth and her soft ears as I scratched behind them. It was as magical as it sounds.
That was a big moment for me because, in the spirit of honesty, large farm animals are still a bit intimidating to me. My husband can stand in a herd of running cattle and hold his ground. This confidence, learned by caring for huge animals, has proven extremely useful for him in his life. I, on the other hand, still get a little freaked out. I’m learning though, and that’s the takeaway here.
Bessie went to live with a nice neighboring farmer while we adjusted to life with a newborn, and she came back with her calf, Coffee. They originally named her Belle, and our 2 year old insisted her name was Coffee. So, I guess it’s sticking. I haven’t gotten to know Coffee as much as I’d like to. I’m hoping that she and I can get to know each other over a big bucket of apples this summer, or maybe oats. Apparently, cows love apples. Who knew?
Bessie will be having another calf before long and I’m thinking about trying to milk-share again. I like the idea of homemade butter, yogurt, cheese and fresh milk. It will be an adventure and I’m thankful I have a lot of older, wiser, REAL farmers to guide me through the process. I love the idea of teaching our kids to milk a cow and use the milk to make fresh dairy products. There will certainly be many of opportunities for life lessons along the way for both the kids and for me.
People care for animals for a variety of reasons. The most obvious reasons I’m sure you’ve heard before. Less obvious, and perhaps idealistic, is that I find myself drawn to the legacy of raising animals. By this I mean, I have come to appreciate the vast amount of knowledge the previous generations possess. As a former City Girl, this fascinates me. How exactly one can smell the subtle quality differences in a fist full of fresh flaky hay, or find a problem area on an animal’s leg by feeling for heat changes. I also love that when they holler out, loud and deep, “Come-Boss!” and the animals come running!
I don’t know many people who can hold their own in large groups of giant farm animals, or jump on a horse bareback and gallop off through the valley. It takes an inner bravery and courage I would argue is sometimes lacking today. I want to tap into that courage, and I want that for my kids too. I want to teach my children to care for animals the way I’ve seen the previous generations care for them. I want my children to live beyond themselves and value hard work. (My husband is a crop farmer too, but we’ll save that topic for another day.) Of course this isn’t the only way to instill these qualities, but it seems like a pretty good start.
It’s possible that I look at farm living with rose colored glasses. But you know what? There is something different about it. I am grateful for the advancements in technology and the sacrifices of those who’ve gone before me, that make it possible for me to choose the very best of this life, instead of it being the only back-breaking option. I have been the first to admit, I’m a former City Girl, and I’m learning this life through our two cows and few chickens, which is an extremely small herd by anyone’s standards. But for right now, for today, it’s the perfect way for me to get my feet wet.