Monday, January 13, 2014

Saying Goodbye to Ol' Number 07

No.07 standing in her preferred milking position
This Monday we said farewell to our oldest cow, number 07.

Seven was born on July 30, 2000, just a few days before I started my final year at Mississippi State University. She gave birth to her first calf…a bull…and entered the milking herd on October 14, 2002. She went on to have nine more calves (5 bulls, 4 heifers) and produce over 180,000 pounds of milk in her lifetime. She was rarely ever a top-producing cow, but she was steady and sound and never gave a bit of trouble in the milking barn.

Many cows have physical characteristics, habits, or quirks that distinguish them from their herdmates, and Seven could check all three of those boxes. She was a thick, stocky cow with big, droopy ears, and she always preferred to be milked at the front unit on the west side of our parlor. And she hated the cow dogs…absolutely HATED the cow dogs.

Evidence of her anti-caninism first came to light the day she gave birth to her second calf. Though she never directed her aggression toward my dad and I, she chased both of our border collies out of the pasture when we tried to walk her and her calf to the barn. This happened three or four times, the dogs barking and retreating every time she took a step in their direction. From that day on she would glare at any dog that got within ten feet of her, often charging them if they made the mistake of not knowing where she was.

Our fondness for her and her antics (I once jokingly suspected her of leading an "Occupy Farm Lane" protest) helped contribute to her 13+ years of residency on the farm. She hadn’t been particularly profitable her last couple of lactations, but we kept her around for the sake of keeping her around. When our veterinarian informed us this summer that he didn’t think she would ever successfully calve again, we made the decision that we would “cull” her (sell her for beef) sometime within the coming months. That day came on Monday, January 13, 2014. By then her daily milk production had dropped below 30 pounds, she had developed a persistent case of mastitis (a mammary infection) in one quarter of her udder, and just wasn’t moving around as good as she used to. Typical of her lead-cow mentality, she was the first of the eleven cows we culled that day to load the trailer that would haul her off to the stockyard.  I have no way of knowing, but I imagine she probably fought her way to the front of the line for the ride that would take her from there to her next…and likely final…destination.


The idea of culling a dairy cow, especially one that has been on a farm for years, can seem harsh to those who have never owned or cared for livestock. But just like beef cattle, hogs, goats, etc., dairy cattle are food animals. Unlike some other types of livestock, they are meant to serve two distinct food production purposes: milk and beef. So no matter how fond we are of one particular cow or how much milk she’s produced for us in the past, she can’t reach her full potential to feed humanity by living out her final days on our farm. We will miss ol’ Seven and know we’ll never have another cow quite like her, but it was time for her to take the last steps toward fulfilling her complete purpose.

8 comments:

Diane Reed Loew said...

you did a great job showing our love for our animals with the reality of our business.

Will Gilmer said...

Thank you, Diane!

wildwoman87 said...

Wow, I'm not much of an animal person. I mean, we don't have any pets besides the cat that my parents have had since I was in middle school but I must admit I might be sad to send cows off to their "next phase" after having a relationship, of sorts. I mean, I love cheeseburgers! But I might be sad. Is it hard not to name them or give them little nicknames based on their quirks? Do your children ever become attached?

Will Gilmer said...

WW87: We do give a few of them nicknames based on a physical characteristic (no.23 = "No-neck") or behavior (no.755 = "Stretch"), but not the vast majority. And it's difficult to describe the difference we feel toward our cows versus our pets, even the one's we are most fond of...it's one of those things you probably have to experience to fully understand.

Tammy Davis said...

Always hate letting a cow go.

Jersey Farm Wife said...

Will - We also give ours nicknames and just recently let go of "Shorty" She was 8 and loved to be at the head of the line and always knew where we were for a scratch behind the ears or a pat on the withers. She was a tell tale Jersey color - light beige with dark points (tail and ears). We loved her and are excited to know that 4 of her daughters are in our herd and will continue her legacy - each with their own subtle quirks and mannerisms...

Katherine @ Grass Stains said...

I know it's different for you, but it would not be different for me. I can say that with complete confidence because when I used to go fishing with my dad, I would name all the fish we caught as we put them in the bucket. And then I'd play with them on the way home in the car. Then I would bawl my eyes out when my mom fried them, and I never ate a single one. Ever. I have still -- at age 41 -- never in my life eaten a piece of fish. Ha!

Katherine @ Grass Stains said...

Oh, and that is not to say that I don't eat hamburgers. I do. I'm saying that if I were a farmer, I wouldn't be able to send a cow off to slaughter. I know it. ESPECIALLY one I'd scratched behind the ears. It would likely kill me. That's why you're the farmer and I work at a bank.