The Long and Winding and Beautiful and Tragic Story of 3M ~ Part VI

Previous Installments: Part I
 / Part II / Part III / Part IV / Intermission
 / Part V

After she grazed my garden, after the corral dried out, we moved 6 back to the corral because we were afraid she might lie down between the raised beds and get stuck. We wanted her to be comfortable and we wanted her to be safe and we wanted her to be with 3M. Sitting in the mud and the rain with 6, I had begged her to “don’t die yet.” Yet. Yet. I knew it was coming. We all knew it was coming.

She created her perfect baby calf and she delivered her calf safely into the world and then she started declining. The day after she calved, it was as if she took a deep breath, thought to herself, “I did it,” and let go. She got visibly thinner daily, and she was already so thin. She got visibly weaker daily, and she was already so weak. By the end of April, when she started having trouble getting up (even when rainstorms and mud were not part of the equation), there was no denying it was just a matter of time, a daily countdown, a waiting game. Except it wasn’t a game.

When she couldn’t get up at all, we carried water to her in a five gallon bucket. We brought her hay. We gave her everything we could – water, food, assistance, peace, space, gratitude. 3M slept beside her, or stood at her head while 6 licked her from where she lay. 3M still scampered back to 6 after getting her meals from Star Baby, and 6 licked her slowly and methodically from chin to hock as she’d done since their first hour together. These two together… 3M, content and carefree. 6, stoic and doting.

She died in the night. A warm, calm night with moonlight. Mike took her body away at dawn, so when I went out to do my morning chores with the corral crew, 6 was gone. I put Star Baby in the head catch and fed her treats while 3M nursed, and 6 wasn’t there and she wouldn’t be there ever again. The corral seemed so much emptier without her presence. 3M finished her morning meal and 6 wasn’t there to lick her as she always had. I grabbed a curry comb and brushed 3M’s little body – her forehead, her cheeks, her neck, her chest, her back, her sides, her flanks, her belly. She stood with her eyes half closed and leaned against me as I brushed her. From that morning on, I brushed 3M after every meal.

This was a hard one for me. They’re all hard – every death on the ranch is hard. This one was intense and lingering. Sadness stuck to me. I was sad for 6, I was sad for 3M, I was sad for the abrupt ending to our beautiful routine (which was never going to last forever, even if 6 had lived), I was sad because Death changes everything with its dark alchemy. My frustration and confusion resurfaced as it does with every death – frustration that death is part of the deal at all, confusion over why it was designed that way.

6 had the best life of any cow – she was granted care and independence and safety and respect from the first day of her life to the last. And hers was the best death any of us could hope for – peacefully at home, surrounded by kin, knowing her baby was going to be cared for after she was gone. How many cows get to die of old age? I can tell you it’s way, way less than 1%. I joke with Mike that we work so hard every day for so little money, but our cows are the 1% of cows.

Everything is temporary. I knew this. 6 was dying from the day she gave birth. I knew this. 3M was born on April 13th; 6 died on May 3. Twenty days. Those magic mornings and evenings lasted for twenty days. The motley cow crew in the little corral were together for twenty days. 3M was twenty days old when she lost her mother. It was only twenty days. I was in awe of the time we had together, that little pocket of time and togetherness and cooperation and appreciation and being. The grace of that time. The grace of 6.

Up next: The Finale. Miracles and synchronicity have been part of The Long and Winding and Beautiful and Tragic Story of 3M since the very beginning, and one more is coming up. I’m reluctant to call it a happy ending because that seems a little dismissive of and disrespectful to 6, plus I don’t think life is about happy endings. I think it’s about happy, wondrous moments in between devastating moments in between tedious moments in between scary moments in between thrilling moments and, if we’re lucky, a whole lot of love swirled into all of it. In such a spiral, where is the ending?

Part VII is here.

The Long and Winding and Beautiful and Tragic Story of 3M ~ Part V

Previous Installments: Part I
  /  Part II  /  Part III  /  Part IV 
 / Intermission

Rain. Our single, four letter word for ‘water falling from the sky’ is grossly inadequate. There should be more words. Seattle rain and Wyoming rain are as related and dissimilar as chihuahua and wolf. Wyoming rain is the wolf. It can appear, seemingly from out of nowhere, and surprise you dangerously. It can be terrifyingly violent. Despite this, people tend to react to it with uncontrollable reverence. For without rain, there is no grass.

When it rains in Wyoming, it’s like a giant barrel being dumped out from the heavens. It’s like a blizzard with water in its liquid state. Wyoming rain comes down hard and fast, each raindrop as long and thick as your finger. The clay-laden earth can’t handle such deluge, and so the water stands in enormous puddles, runs rapids down the driveway, and the top six inches of ground becomes sticky, slicky gumbo – clay mud that can eat shoes and is nearly as treacherous as ice. The first time I lost control of my Bronco was not on ice, but in Wyoming mud.

Still, these torrential downpours don’t fill water troughs for the cows – that was my job. And calves are hungry no matter the weather, and 3M needed my help with Star Baby. Mike had left, and when I finished my coffee, I put on my ankle-length snow skirt which I hadn’t touched since deep winter and a rain slicker with a hood and my Muck boots (every day, my muck boots) and slopped out to 6 and 3M and Star Baby and her calf. My trudging turned to sprinting when I saw 6 was down and thrashing. She was lying on her side in the mud, legs splayed and kicking the air. When I reached her, I was horrified to see she had gotten her head stuck under the bottom rail of one of the corral panels. She was writhing and flailing and frothing at the mouth. She’d been trying to rescue herself for a while – who knows how long. I splashed to the barn and grabbed a lariat (aka a stiff lasso rope, which neither Mike nor I know how use in the way it’s intended), got the loop around her neck, and pushed it as far down as I could, down to the thick base of her neck where it meets her chest and shoulders. I heaved and pulled with all my might and managed to slide 6 away from the panel and free her head. The slipperiness of the mud is the only reason I was able to do this – even old and frail, she still weighed in at close to a thousand pounds.

She immediately began struggling to stand, but she couldn’t. When a cow gets up, she rocks a little to launch herself up and onto her feet. Imagine getting yourself out of an oversized plush chair – you’d rock back a little, then push yourself forward and out with the extra momentum. Cows do exactly this when they stand up. And cows can kill themselves trying to get up when they’re stuck – if they’re mired in mud, if they’re up against a wall without enough room to rock back and forth onto their feet. They will try over and over and over until they die of exhaustion.

Before we moved the head catch up to the new barn, I had it in the corner of Daisy’s little milking barn where Frisco spent the last weeks of his life. The head catch was set two feet from the back wall, bolted to posts six inches in diameter that were set two feet in the ground. On one of my countless trips to the barn when I was caring for Frisco, I found him on the ground, kicking and rocking next to the head catch. He had laid down so close to the head catch that he couldn’t get up – there wasn’t enough room for him to get enough momentum to stand up. When I found him, he was drenched in sweat from trying. Mike was two hours away, so I found a crowbar and a giant wrench and dismantled the iron panels of the head catch as quickly as I could and (thanks to adrenaline) moved them out of the way. Frisco was then able to stand up and take a long drink of water.

6 must have laid down under the small awning of the barn where the dirt gently slopes away from the wall – as dry a place as possible, but on such a day, with sideways rain, not dry at all. The degree of the decline is an unremarkable grade, not something I ever really noticed, not something that would adversely affect any other cow, perhaps not even 6 on any other day. But this day, the slope had been perilous. Either because of the direction she chose to lay down, or because she slid a little when she first tried to get up, 6 was positioned so that her body and head were downhill from her legs and hooves. She not only had to rock, she had to rock uphill. 6 was already weak because she was so old – for the past few days, she had been having some trouble rocking up to standing even when it was dry and perfectly flat. To fight against gravity, too? And the mud, too? She couldn’t do it. And as she struggled, she slid closer to the corral panel, and when she tired, she lay her head on the ground, and this is how she ended up with her head under the railing.

After I swiveled her around and freed her head, I tried to help 6 sit up with her head up, but she was too weak and exhausted to hold it up. She just kept thrashing around on the ground. There was already a raw patch of skin on her bottom shoulder where she had worn all the hair off in her struggles. So I did the only thing I could: I sat beside her with my hands on her head and face. As long as I was touching her, she lay still. I didn’t dare run back to the house to get my phone to call Mike – when I moved away from her, 6 started convulsing in attempts to get up and I didn’t know how much longer she could fight before expiring. I wasn’t willing to risk it. So I stayed with her in the mud in the pouring rain, waiting for Mike to return. I sobbed hysterically and talked to her through the downpour. “Don’t die. Not now. Not today. Not in the rain. Don’t die yet, don’t do it, please….” Her eye, the one I could see, was wild. It bulged out and then sank into her skull and I was sure she was going to perish in the storm as I pet her cheek.

When Mike got home, he found us in the mud and quickly rearranged a few of the panels between the corral and my garden. My garden stretches out from the chicken house and is right next to the panel corral we made for 3M & Co in front of the barn. It, too, is surrounded by panels because I haven’t had time to build a proper wooden fence around it. Once Mike opened up a passageway between the two, he grabbed one of 6’s hind legs and I pushed her shoulders and together, we slid 6 out of the corral and into my garden. We got her to a level grassy patch and we got her sitting up – lying down but with her head up. She seemed relieved. The only question was whether 6 could get up at all. Would she ever get up again?

After taking care of 3M and Star Baby, who had been huddled in the rain but were perfectly fine, Mike and I returned to the house. I escaped to a hot shower. The rain traveled past us and the sun came out. I nervously peeked out the door at 6 in my garden and she was up! She was standing! She was peacefully grazing the luscious, rogue grass that was already six inches tall between my raised beds. She moved delicately enough that I wasn’t worried about her destroying my garden the way another cow would – she could stay in my garden as long as she liked! She nipped down all the grass and didn’t even touch my raspberries.

Part VI is here.


I’ve been writing The Long & Winding & Beautiful and Tragic Story of 3M for a few reasons. One: to share, pure and simple. Two: to get this story on paper and out of my brain, because it’s something I want to hold on to. Three: because I need your help, or advice, or ideas, or perspective. Here’s the thing: all the characters in this beautiful true story are Angus cows and calves – that is to say, beef cows and calves. You care about them. I care about them. My hope, my wish, my dream, is that the general population, society at large, comes to care about the animals that produce and become our food (and our pets’ food) the way that you and I care about the cows in The Story of 3M. Because all of the animals that produce and become our food (and our pets’ food) are individuals with personalities as vast and endearing as the animals I write about. Every single one. If I hadn’t bought Daisy when I did and if she had stayed at the dairy for seven months longer than she did, Frisco would have been veal. Our conventional food system, the way it is currently arranged, does not treat animals very well. The environment is often treated poorly, too. How do we change the status quo?

The answer is not as simple as “everyone should be vegan.” That’s not realistic, as many bodies do not thrive without meat, myself included, (and not for lack of trying). I’ve also come to the conclusion that, for me, eating organic, grass-finished beef is more ecologically responsible than getting the bulk of my protein from plants. Defending Beef (written by a vegetarian environmental lawyer) explains in depth the restorative effects of grazing animals and the detrimental effects of cultivated crops on climate change, sequestering carbon, and preserving topsoil, which is why I feel this book is an important read for everyone, not just meat eaters.

I love cows, I eat meat, I raise beef cattle, and I sell meat to other people who eat meat. I have been called a hypocrite murderer via email more times than I can count. I don’t see myself or my work that way – I see it exactly the opposite and have written about that here. And as I stated in that post, none of this is easy. I’m not doing it for “easy.” I’m doing it to change the world. And sometimes it feels so impossible, the necessary shifts insurmountable. And so I tell myself that even if I don’t change the world, I can change the lives of some animals by keeping them out of the feedlot system, and of my customers by providing them with extraordinary, healthy meat that is aligned with their values, and that these small changes matter. Strangely, even when it feels impossible, I can see my dream of the future so clearly… the solutions, the big picture, the potential! I can see it all spread out in front of us, as clear and distant as the view of Earth from the window of an airplane.

I’m reading a book called Emergent Strategy by Adrienne Maree Brown and I’m in love with it – this book gives me hope and determination. Full book report coming when I finish it, but for now: emergent strategy is “strategy for building complex patterns and systems of change through relatively small interactions….” Wow. Yes. This blog post is a relatively small interaction. What might it do? What mycelienic network is it part of and how will that network expand? Star Brand Beef is a relatively small interaction, a microbusiness. I started it and continue it because it’s an alternative to the status quo and if the status quo is going to change, alternatives must be available. And a network of people – my incredible, creative customers and supporters of this work – keep it alive, keep it evolving. I could not do it on my own.

I learned quickly that I need to completely clear my schedule during the weeks I take my steers to transition from living beings to nourishing food. It’s hard. It’s intense. I still cry and I know I always will. I thank the animals – I wrap them in layers upon layers of prayers of gratitude – not just from me but from every one of my customers who will be sustained by them for the coming year. And all year long, after every burger, every steak, I say “holy wow, Star Brand Beef is the best!” And I say thanks to the animals again.

I was talking to my mom the other night (I’ve turned her on to keto) and she mentioned how much she likes chicken. And when I asked her where she bought her chicken, she said ‘the store’ and when I asked her about the kind of chicken, the life and backstory of the chicken she bought and ate, she said she didn’t know, that she never really thought about it. And I gave her my schpeal about the inhumane treatment commercially-farmed chickens endure before they become grocery store chicken, and how, on the flip side, she could have an incredible impact on the life of an indie chicken farmer if she went to the farmers market or read the local classifieds and found someone raising pastured chickens, someone who cared for and respected their chickens and raised them in a way that served the planet and honored the birds. “You will make a difference,” I told her, “to that chicken farmer and to every single chicken you eat.” And part of me was screaming inside because why did I have to spell this out for her? She sees what I go through with Star Brand Beef, has heard my passionate rants against factory farms and the inhumane treatment of animals and earth. And I wonder how often she’ll consider this going forward. Sometimes, maybe? Will she think about it every time she eats chicken?

Pastured, humanely-raised meat (be it beef, pork, or fowl) is more expensive than factory farmed meat. This is because doing right by the animals and by Mother Earth takes more time and effort and care and money and space. But what is of greater value than healthy, nourishing food that was raised ethically, prioritizing the sustainability of agricultural practices, the well-being of the animals, the environmental impact? It SHOULD cost more. This idea that food should be the cheapest thing we spend our money on is the dark side of capitalism: the system has been rigged to train us to buy cheap food so we have money left over to spend on more clothes and knick knacks than we need, often made by cheap, exploitative labor, and then, perhaps, an expensive, brand new car on credit because that’s our collective sign of success. Let’s not! Let’s buy perfectly decent used cars, get our wardrobes from thrift stores (all my cashmere has come from thrift stores), and spend more on the most important thing: healthy food, produced ethically and sustainably.

“I spend most of the money that comes my way on food, and most of my time thinking about, procuring, preparing, and consuming food…and this seems as it should be. This is my definition of right relationship to our food- that it should be an all consuming relationship that leaves little room for things like shopping addictions or toxic friends or any of the other trouble we find ourselves in with all the extra time that convenience foods afford us.” (Erin Rivera Merriman, Active Culture Family)

“How do we create and proliferate a compelling vision of economies and ecologies that center humans and the natural world over the accumulation of material?” (Adrienne Maree Brown, Emergent Strategy).

“Refuse what you do not need; reduce what you do need; reuse what you consume; recycle what you cannot refuse, reduce, or reuse; and rot the rest.” (Bea Johnson, Zero Waste Home).

Not everyone can afford to make these choices. Not everyone can afford food, period. Which leads me to my latest venture, another small act of emergent strategy: a collaboration between Star Brand Beef, The Food Bank of the Rockies, and, if you’re interested, you.

I donate beef every year, personally, but believe that together, we can donate even more to those in need and keep even more animals from entering the feedlot system, and I’ve teamed up with The Food Bank of the Rockies so that YOU get the tax deductions.

Supporting food banks was extremely important to my grandmother, the late, great Svensto, and I am honored to continue her legacy.

We all need healthy, nourishing food and I believe we all deserve it. And it’s getting harder to procure, especially in certain areas like food deserts. Healthy, organic food is generally more expensive, and I have a really hard time with the fact that one’s socioeconomic status determines the quality of food available. The healthiest (and most sustainably produced) food should not be exclusive to the economically-advantaged.

I am disturbed by the widening chasm of income inequality. I consider this a heartbreaking crisis and I feel powerless in many ways. But I am in a position to donate the finest, healthiest, most delicious beef to food banks, and I do this with a rebel’s spirit. Cooperation is a revolutionary act, I believe this with my soul.

How this works: Donations will be collected and pooled to buy humanely-raised, organic, grass-finished beef from Star Brand Beef at wholesale (more beef for your buck). That beef is donated to The Food Bank of The Rockies in YOUR names. I will provide The Food Bank of The Rockies with a spreadsheet of donations received (which will include your names and addresses) and The Food Bank of The Rockies will then send YOU your own, personalized 501(c)3 charitable donation paperwork in the amount of your donation for the 2018 tax year.

To contribute, click HERE. You’ll see a drop-down menu of options – every amount makes a difference. Thank you so much for joining me in this venture in whatever way you feel called.

Thank you for reading this far.
I look forward to reading your thoughts…….

And now stay tuned for our regularly scheduled programming: Part V of The Long and Winding and Beautiful and Tragic Story of 3M is here.

The Long and Winding and Beautiful and Tragic Story of 3M ~ Part IV

Previous Installments: Part I / Part II / Part III

So, to recap: we have Roxy and her calf and Roxy’s udder edema. And we have Grandmother 6 and her calf and 6 had no milk. And we have Star Baby and her calf and Star Baby’s giant udder and previous mastitis from too much milk.

This has been the hardest segment to write, not because it’s tragic, but because these weeks were so wonderful, so beautiful, and I know my words will never be adequate. It was Spring. Newly Spring. The air was warm and the warm air was a revelation. Birds chattered and trilled everywhere, all the time: robins, mourning doves, red-winged blackbirds, sparrows, Sandhill cranes. The sloppy, slicky mud had dried. Things were finally, finally easy.

Each morning, I went out early, often before coffee, to my little motley gang of cows at the barn. I let Roxy out of the barn and she trotted to the head catch. She had a haystack in the barn to eat from as she wished, and she went into the head catch just because she wanted to, not because she got extra food. 6’s calf learned quickly that if a cow was standing in the head catch, that cow was hers – her meal, her job, her delight. She’d run into the alley, wiggle alongside Roxy’s body, and suck her dry. When the calf finished drawing Roxy down, I let Roxy out of the head catch and let Star Baby in. Star Baby was lined up and ready to go as soon as Roxy was out, because Star Baby got extra hay while in the head catch. She stood peacefully and ate while 6’s calf latched onto her and devoured the bounty of milk Star Baby had to offer. I gave 6 extra hay in the corral while Star Baby fed her calf, for she was still so skinny.

One morning, Mike was with me during my musical cow routine and I said something about how 6’s calf has three mothers and he said, “We should name her 3M!” And so we did. 3M for 3 Mothers. I also like it because 3 is half of 6. Because, while 3M got her food, her nourishment, from two other cows, she got love from 6. After 3M finished nursing Star Baby, after she’d had her fill, she galloped right back to 6 who licked her and licked her. They stood together. They slept side by side. The love, the bond between them, was humbling in its purity. There was no “survival” requirement for their bond – the connection they shared was beyond biology. I don’t understand how some people believe animals don’t have feelings or emotions. Either those people haven’t spent any real, meaningful time around animals or they themselves lack feelings or emotions. Cows love. This I know.

I fell in love with 3M immediately. She understood from day one that I was going to help her get her meals but that she was going to have to make the most of every opportunity, to eat fast and suck hard. She ran to me when I arrived at the corral, licking her lips in anticipation, and ran into the alley when a cow was in the head catch. She was scrappy, happy, eager, opportunistic. Built delicately, her body and bones smaller than every other calf, but tough and determined, mighty!

I loved my morning chores. I loved this routine. Though, they were not “chores” and it was not “routine” – it was ritual beauty I got to help orchestrate and take part in. It was my guaranteed time of guaranteed wonder, of peace and the warm spring air and the good work of helping a cow raise her calf and helping a calf get the best food and helping two others cows keep their udders healthy. Of filling the water tank, of watching the cows and calves interact – the group together, the community of this little space – each one independent and respectful, familial in the very best sense of that word.

I repeated this ritual work every evening, too, and cherished it then, too. My time at the barn was the best part of my every day in a quiet, dependable way. I sat in the dirt with my back against the logs of the chicken house in the little alley next to the head catch as 3M sucked and slurped ecstatically, and I breathed – really breathed, and smiled – really smiled. In the afternoon, this spot was in shadow, but still warm.

By the time Roxy’s calf was a week old, he was drinking exponentially more than he had as a newborn and could consume all the milk Roxy produced. Calves, as they grow, will eat more and more – even more than they need. Mara, for example, now five months old, can drain every drop of milk that Daisy produces – gallons upon gallons upon gallons every day. Roxy and I no longer needed 3M’s help in keeping her udder drained twice a day. And Roxy’s udder edema had completely gone away. My early concerns about Roxy’s calf’s health had vanished, too – he was healthy and strong and both of them had outgrown the barn. It was time to let them out.

And so, my beautiful mornings and evenings transformed, became even more intimate: 6 and 3M and Star Baby and SBB (Star Baby Baby) and me (though Roxy kept returning to the barn, kept wanting to stand in the head catch just for the fun of it). Star Baby, for all her haughty disdain towards people, was so good with 3M. So generous. She refused to allow 3M to nurse when they were out in the corral, but she was always waiting for me in the alley next to the head catch when she saw me approaching, and once she was in the head catch, she stood calmly and patiently for as long as 3M wanted to nurse.

These weeks of mornings and evenings with 6 and 3M and Star Baby were so special. And I’ve been around long enough to know that if you love something, you better revel in it with all you’ve got because nothing lasts. Calves grow up. Seasons change. And even when seasons cycle back around, no two Springs are ever the same, no two Winters. Everything is temporary – and there’s no place this is clearer to me than in agriculture. These chores were sacred because I knew they wouldn’t last. They couldn’t last. Nothing does.

Part V is here. It doesn’t get tragic quite yet, I promise.

The Long and Winding and Beautiful and Tragic Story of 3M ~ Part III

Part I is here.

Part II is here.

The day after 6 calved, Star Baby calved. Star Baby is one of my Angus cows. She is Star’s daughter, who was my first Angus cow, given to me by Mike. (Star’s birth story is crazy, too, and can be read here.) Star loves attention and loves to be brushed, but Star Baby has never really been a people cow. She’s not fearful of people, not at all; she just has never wanted much to do with us as long as we bring her food. I get the feeling she thinks we are beneath her. If I try to pet her, she tosses her head like, “get your filthy hands off me,” and walks away.

When I saw Star Baby was calving, I crept out to the hill to watch. I had binoculars and I didn’t get too close; I was only there to make sure everything was OK. Star Baby saw me and glared at me, got up, walked a short ways away, and lay down again – this time behind a sagebrush with her face facing me and her backside arranged so I couldn’t see hooves or delivery or anything. So I got up, walked down the hill she was lying atop, circled around, and hiked up the other side so I could see what was going on. I wasn’t as sneaky as I’d hoped, but Star Baby tolerated my presence and her delivery went smoothly, even though she continued to glare at me and was obviously irritated that I was intruding. Once her calf shook its head and Star Baby stood up to lick it off, I went back to the house and left them together.

By late afternoon, Star Baby’s calf still hadn’t had her first meal. I watched from the house with binoculars, saw her calf nuzzle around Star Baby’s udder and try to suck, but she never actually got a teat in her mouth, even though Star Baby stood perfectly still for her calf. The calf could not figure out Star Baby’s udder. Star Baby’s udder is unique. She has a round, nearly spherical, bag and her teats don’t dangle down, they point forward. They are perfectly positioned to slide right into a calf’s mouth, as long as the calf is coming at the teat from the perfect position, head on. But if the calf tries to nurse from the side, it can be challenging, especially when the teats are engorged and rigid as they are right after birth, especially for a newborn who is unsteadily trying to figure out how it all works. Star Baby’s baby couldn’t figure it out. We had to intervene.

With many cows, I can go up to them in the pasture and help maneuver their babies onto teats for the first time if need be – the cows will stand still, more focused on their calf than on me. But Star Baby’s disdain for people thwarted such simplicity. When I approached Star Baby and her calf, she hustled away, mooing for her baby to follow her. Down the hill she went, and the more I followed, the farther she traveled. Since she wouldn’t stand for me, or even let me get close, I needed to get Star Baby and her calf into the little corral in front of the barn with 6 and 6’s calf and I needed Mike’s help to get them in.

Star Baby wanted no part of this plan. She trotted in sweeping figure eights, her udder swinging, her calf prancing after her. A gusty windstorm blew in and red dirt coated our skin and filled our ears and blinded us as we chased after Star Baby, but we couldn’t stop and wait out the storm, because who knew how long it would last and it was going to get dark and we had to just ‘git ‘er done’ and it was miserable. We finally got them in the little corral and as I was tying the panels shut, Star Baby, furious about being contained, reached through the slats in the panels and tried to bite me! I’ve never had a cow try to bite me before. I told her all we wanted to do was help her and her calf. I always tell the animals my intentions, the “why” behind what I’m doing with them, if they seem stressed.

We have a head catch set outside the barn, along the west wall in the alley between the barn and the chicken house. A head catch is a contraption of two metal panels that open and close with a big lever, and these panels gently close around a cow’s neck without actually touching the cow. A cow’s neck is so much narrower than her head and her shoulders that when the panels are in place, she can’t move forward or backwards. Since the panels aren’t squeezing her neck or even touching it, she can move her head up and down and eat while standing in the head catch. Head catches aren’t inherently traumatizing to a cow, as long as the person running the levers doesn’t let the panels slam against the cow or otherwise abuse her.

Once, I was helping another rancher work his cows, and if a cow balked for even a moment before entering the chute and head catch, he hit her with a hot shot (aka electric cattle prod, which gives a huge shock) to make her jump forward. I was like, ‘no wonder your cows don’t want to go into the chute – they associate it with pain because you shock them to get them in!’ It was awful to watch. If a cow can take a moment to sniff it out and isn’t traumatized by the people around her, she will have no problem standing in a head catch. It’s kind of like riding the subway at rush hour. You might be a little tentative about stepping into a packed train, and once you do, you can’t really move, but overall, it’s not a big deal, as long as no awful men molest you while you’re trapped.

I lured Star Baby into the head catch with some hay, and as she stood and ate, she began to relax, and her breathing got calm and deep. While she ate, I helped her calf stand in the right spot to get one of Star Baby’s torpedo teats in her mouth and nurse for the first time.

When Star Baby was getting close to calving and her udder was growing, it puzzled me. Her left front quarter was not filling like the rest. I couldn’t figure out if she was letting another calf suck that quarter (extremely unlikely with an older cow) or if it was going to fill up last (abnormal, as all quarters fill at the same rate) or what. Now that I had a chance to study her udder up close, I understood. Star Baby must have had undiagnosed mastitis in that quarter last year, and now that quarter was dead – not producing milk at all.

Last year, I was so focused on the book, I wasn’t out with the cows as much as usual. And Mike is not one to stare at udders the way I’m inclined to do as a milkmaid – plus, Angus cows generally aren’t at risk for mastitis under normal circumstances because they don’t produce surplus milk and their calf will keep their udder drained and healthy. But Star Baby’s udder this year was enormous for an Angus cow, and it must have been big enough last year that her calf never needed to drink from all four quarters to stay satisfied. I’m guessing her calf ignored one quarter consistently, and after a while it got mastitis, and we didn’t notice or treat it. Now, that quarter will never produce milk.

Luckily for Star Baby and all calves present and future, her remaining three quarters were producing a ridiculous amount of milk. So much milk, her calf was not going to be able to drink it all until she grew bigger and more voracious. Star Baby’s calf drank and drank and drank until she got full and still didn’t even drain one quarter. Star Baby was going to need help getting all that milk out every day or risk mastitis again.

I had put 6‘s calf with Roxy twice that day but I knew she could eat more. She was getting adequate milk from Roxy but not enough to properly stuff herself. And so when Star Baby’s calf had finished her first meal, I brought 6’s calf alongside Star Baby and 6’s calf went to town. She grabbed a teat with her tongue and sucked till she was in gluttonous milk ecstasy. When she was full enough to burst, she waddled back to 6, who licked her and loved her though she could not feed her.

Even after both calves had their fill, Star Baby’s udder was still full of milk – colostrum, actually. It was getting late and it was still windy and I knew Star Baby’s calf would nurse a few more times during the night, but I didn’t want to neglect Star Baby’s udder, especially considering her history, so I sat beside the head catch and milked her. Star Baby was the most perfectly polite cow I’d ever milked, more so than Daisy, even more so than Roxy. She was calm and patient. Or perhaps she was just pleased that I was kneeling in the dirt at her feet.

We’re not even halfway through this saga!
Part IV is here.

« go backkeep looking »

    • mwchrdF
    • SBhrd
    • Ahrd
    • Bhrd
  • More, Elsewhere

    • tdcbuttonb
    • newshopbutton16s
    • IGflicka
  • Tweets

  • Follow Honey Rock Dawn

    Enter your email address to receive new posts via email.

  • My Books

    • tdccoverbutton
    • ten
  • What I’m Reading

  • Categories

  • RSS