“Farmers are cruel and mistreat their animals”. “Farmers don’t care”. These statements and those like them hurt. There’s those out there whose opinions have been made up by some story they read on the internet by an anti-dairy organization without ever talking to a farmer. They spread lies and honestly believe we are evil. Without ever visiting one farm or talking to a single farmer. I’m pretty sure you’re not supposed to blankety judge a group of people, there’s even laws to protect people from that but when it comes to farmers, everyone seems to know what’s best for cows without ever having met one.
But here’s the truth-farmers do care. Sometimes we care too much. Sometimes we care so much that it hurts. Our cows are our co-workers. We milk about 120. So imagine your office has about that many people in it. You get to know them pretty well. Some you love, some you like okay and there are those few that are mean that you aren’t too fond of but they are still part of your workplace and part of your routine. So when you get to work the same people over 12 hours a day, 365 days a year they are a part of you. Since we get the pleasure of working with cows and not people(they may not talk back but they definitely have the drama😂) it’s kind of comparable to working with dogs, if you’re a dog person.
But we all know the problem with owning dogs(besides never being able to wear black pants if you like Saint Bernards like me). Dogs are perfect and come into this world for a very short time of our lives. You give them your whole heart, knowing full well it will be broken sooner rather than later, although you pray that’s not the case. Cows are the same way. Each one of our cows has a name, has a personality, and they are all very different from each other. And you have your favorites and when they get pregnant you have names picked out well in advance and wait for the day their calves are born and you go to the barn in your pjs in the middle of the night to check to see if she’s come out yet. You feed them their first bottle and watch her grow and watch in pride as she becomes part of your milking herd, and the two of you have a special bond. She seeks you out for head scratches and gives you all licks and hugs.
And you do everything you can to keep her healthy and strong. But sometimes, everything you do is not enough. Sometimes, things are out of our control and there are things medicine can’t fix. Cows can get cancer, or other diseases and you just can’t make it better. You have to make the decision that it’s better for her to not be in pain anymore. We’ve all been there with your pet, this heartache does not change with species of animal. Just because it’s “just a cow” does not make the decision any easier, nor does it make it hurt any less, because to us, they are not “just cows”.
Last week, one of our girls was sick. There was nothing farmer, or our vet could do. Last Saturday, we tried helping her up. When I knelt down next to her, I knew she was already gone. Physically she was here but I felt like she had already given up and her soul was gone. I sat with her head in my lap, rubbing her face as my tears ran down her cheek. I thanked her for all her hard work, for her beautiful daughters, granddaughters and great-granddaughters. Seeing her lying there, weak and giving up, someone who was once one of the biggest, strongest cows in the barn hurts. Knowing I can’t do anything at all but be with her hurts. It literally physically hurts my heart. She breathed slow and heavy and (I think) was glad I was there. She passed away shortly thereafter.
This passage has taken almost a week to write because every time I start, I cry. And I can’t see the screen. I’m crying now. I’m not over losing her. Just like saying goodbye to a fur baby, every single one of our girls has a place in my heart. I can remember all of them. Luckily, we have a healthy herd and work hard to keep them that way so we don’t have to say goodbye often, but unfortunately the time will come for all of them, just like all of us. In our office hangs ear tags and pictures of those who really touched us, those really special friends. I like to think that they are still here, watching over their daughters and friends, hanging out with them in the pasture. Farming is hard for so many reasons-the hours, the cashflow(or lack thereof), the weather, the breakdowns…I could go on and on. But losing a cow is the hardest part.
So please don’t say we don’t care. Please don’t say that they are “just cows”. To us, they are so, so much more than that. They are part of our family, just like your dogs are part of yours. Please don’t say we mistreat them because we do everything we can for them. We take our time and our money, leaving none for ourselves and families to keep them healthy and happy. Not too many people can say they invest all their own personal resources, including their heart and soul, into what they do. We do. Before you judge us, realize we are not evil robots. We are humans with hearts. You can choose whatever diet and lifestyle you like, that’s fine. But know we will never do anything to hurt our girls.
To all our girls, we love you. We love working with you and we appreciate all your hard work. To all our girls to come, we promise to give you a happy, healthy life. And to all the girls we have lost, I’m sorry. I’m sorry there’s things we can’t fix, I’m sorry you’re no longer here. I hope you know we remember you and your legacy lives on in your progeny. We think of you fondly as your daughter does something you used to do, and say “she’s just like her momma” with a smile. I hope you’re still with us, and I hope you’re enjoying the never ending green pasture you’re in now.
Dedicated to all the girls we have loved and lost, especially Krunch, who passed away last Saturday, and to my Isis, whom I miss every day.