Wednesday, December 8, 2010

The Flerd becomes a Flock Again

In August, 2009, we bought our first cow. Having a cow amongst our sheep turned our flock into a flerd (flock + Herd = flerd). We had a mix of four legged livestock now.

Marlow was 6 weeks old when we got him. He weighed about 150 pounds. We put him in the back of a pickup truck and drove him home. We bottle fed him for weeks. He's barely bigger than our Great Pyrenees, Goliath, in the picture below.

I loved him, and we had a fun summer. Sometimes he would nap in the sun with his head in my lap. We probably got too familiar with him, as he started getting a little push as he got bigger.

Our plan was to raise him for meat. He was supposed to go in the fall. But we were too attached. Between then and now, he's gotten really nasty. He's jumped the stall wall in the barn, he knocked down the fence in the strawberry patch, and he charges me on sight. While Larry was out of town, he had me pinned against the truck for a while, and just last weekend he got a horn dragged from my hip to my shoulder, and almost ripped my shirt off me. It's time to say goodbye. Tomorrow is his trip to the meat locker. I'm very sad. I know he has to go, but we raised him from a baby. And now I'll never get to pet my Marlow again, or stand and scratch him behind the ears. Goodbye big guy! I hope you enjoyed your life on the farm. It's ironic how much time I spent saving him from bloat, teaching him to eat again, just for this. But he gets to go on our terms, quickly, and with purpose.

Marlow was a planned departure.

Bridget wasn't supposed to go, not yet. But she left us today. Miss Bridget was my sweet little girl cow. She was a gift on Mother's day this year. A little Belted Galloway calf. She didn't ride as easily in the truck as Marlow did. She was scared. She came to us with pneumonia and a broken jaw, and scars from a coyote attack on her face.

We nursed her to health, bottle fed her, even while her broken jaw clicked under our hands. We got her all better. She enjoyed the summer in the sunshine, with Marlow and the sheep. Lots of sunshine, lots of grass. I don't think she ever gave us hard time.

Then she got sick this summer. She had symptoms of Pneumonia, so we treated her for that. And while some symptoms got better, others popped up. Underneath the pneumonia was Malignant Catarrhal Fever - a rare virus with a 90% fatality rate. My little girl wasn't eating, was drooling and had a very high, sustained temperature. We gave her medicine, I fed her through a tube, and eventually, she beat the odds and lived past the fever. She got better!

She was always a pretty mellow little girl. Hearing her MOO again made me know her strength and her vision were returning. It was so nice to hear her speaking up. With winter on, and everyone eating hay, it wasn't as easy to see lethargy in the animals. I'm not sure how long she's been sick. But last night, when we returned home from a funeral, she was bloated.

We tubed her, and thought she would be OK. Larry checked on her before he went to bed and said she was fine. IN the morning, she had bloated again, so we tubed her again, and then we decided to go to work. I called the vet to come out and see her anyhow.

He said she had a very low temperature, as well as an internal parasite, and that if we didn't warm her up, she would just bloat again. So I called my neighbor to come over and put some blankets on her to warm her up. But it was already too late. My poor sweet cow, who started life being sick, ended up leaving us that way, too.

She never got to grow up. She never got to see her full potential. She never had a chance.

I never forgive myself for the animals that suffer. I recognize the irony that we raise animals for meat, and I get attached to them, and then they go away. I know that all animals, pets or otherwise, go away eventually. We've lost 3 dogs in 2 years. It never seems fair. We processed 45 turkeys this year, and I was sad to see them go, but the ones that make me mad are the ones that get sick and die, or get hurt and die. We've lost a batch of chickens to some sort of respiratory infection. It hurts me to my core that I bring an animal to my house, and that it should suffer in any way. They are supposed to live their lives (how long or short that should be) and they should pass quickly and painlessly. I will admit that I have been able to provide that for all of our dogs. And Bridget was supposed to have at least another year, and then a quick and humane ending.

The fact that she suffered at all makes me feel so guilty. It makes me want to give up ranching. It breaks my heart that she was alone in a barn stall, in the cold. I don't know if a cow can tell, I don't know if she knew how much I loved her, and just wanted to care for her.

So tomorrow morning, after Larry gets back from the processor, we'll be cow free. And we intend to remain cow free for the rest of our lives. We tried it, it doesn't work for us. We are going to stick with sheep. (which answers a question for us... we don't need to cull our sheep flock for the sake of the cows! No one will get MCF again!) I wasn't ready to say goodbye to them both. But I am ready to focus on our sheep, who, even having about 20 of them right now, never really get sick! Sheep are easy!

So goodnight Ms. Bridget. Goodnight Mr. Marlow. I never thought I'd grow up to have my very own cows, but once I got them, I never realized how quickly they would leave me. Goodnight my sweet cows - I hope there is a big green pasture in the sky where the grass never stops growing, and somehow, I think Hobbes is waiting for you there - he just wants to play with you!