Where there’s a milk cow, there’s drama.
Years ago, shortly after we moved from the city, we discovered the wonders of raw milk. Initially we ‘purchased’ raw milk by buying the feed for the farmer who kept and milked the cow. Then his hands got tired and we inherited Molly. The first cow ever to wear a toupee, Molly taught us so very much about milking. Her daughter, who will remain nameless, taught us even more about patience.
Over the years we added to our little herd, either through purchases or births. Some made it. Some passed away prematurely. Some, we sold.
A few years ago, after Molly passed and we sold her cantankerous daughter, we found ourselves with three fresh (milking) cows and only two hands to do all the milking. Ever Amish in milking endeavors, we shunned buying an automatic milker and, instead, worked out an arrangement with a friend who runs a dairy.
Our cows would move onto his farm. He would feed and care for them, keeping all their milk to sell, except five gallons a week that would go to us. We also would receive 3 dozen eggs a week and the calves, once weaned. It was/is paradise as far as I am concerned. All the benefits, none of the work, except…
Eventually I have to get around to picking up the calves.
Last week I went to retrieve the first ready this year. I called my friend. He was out but promised to have his kids get the calf up and ready to load before I arrived. When I got there, they were ‘ready’ for me. The calf was in a small paddock near a gate, to which I backed my trailer. The ‘chute’ for loading the calf was made of two flexible wire panels, loosely tied to either side of the gate with bits of scrap wire. I backed my trailer into the directed position, got out of the truck, walked back to the trailer and surveyed this loading arrangement.
My heart sank a bit. I had seen this before. I have done this before. It doesn’t work.
“But, I thought, Maybe they know something about this calf that I don’t. Maybe she’s real gentle and easy to load.”
Attempt one at loading saw the calf – Eagle Eye let’s call it – shoot to one corner of the ‘chute’ and simply push through the flexible wire panel, below where it was loosely tied to the fence. Not to fear. The teenager helping me load the calf, quickly jumped into action – literally. He pounced on the calf’s neck, pulling her to the ground.
“Hmmm, I thought, I didn’t know I got demonstrations of calf wrestling in this deal.”
Not really happy about the way the calf was being manhandled, and feeling particularly helpless to do anything about it, I fetched a rope from a child nearby, encouraged the teenager to release the calf enough to stand, looped the center of the rope behind the calf’s rear and pulled the two ends of the rope. This applied pressure to the back of the cow without risking a kick. The helpful teenager retained his lock around the calves neck, just behind its jaw, attempting to steer her back toward the ‘chute’.
Eventually my tugging and his steering replaced her in the enclosure, but she would have nothing of the loading. She circled the small enclosure while one of us tried to coax her into the trailer. As soon as she spied an opening, she shot past a boy holding one end of the panel making up the ‘chute’.
Teenager again valiantly flung himself across my periphery. The calf went down in his arm lock and I was getting tired. This time when he let her up, it took me and a strapping German fellow, yanking on the rope behind the calf’s rear to re-place her in the enclosure.
The chute idea was now officially dead, as far as I was concerned. I told one of the boys to hold an end of the wire panel against my trailer gate while I took the other end and bent it around in a semicircle, significantly reducing the calf’s available real estate. Before I finished this little adjustment, however, she stepped so close to the back of the trailer that I was able to close most of the gate on her, pinning her in a very small area just behind the trailer.
But she wouldn’t budge. Mind you, we hadn’t pinned her in so tightly that she couldn’t step into the trailer, but she couldn’t back up either.
We tried tugging, pulling, putting one foot in the trailer, then the other, but nothing doing. She’d just lay down on her front legs. Finally the teenager said, “We’re going to have to roll her in.”
By this time I was hot and tired of this game. The calf that had been, in previous conversations, advertised to me as ‘real gentle’ had proved otherwise. And, if she had been gentle, she was no longer after this manhandling.
Regardless, I’d come for a calf and a calf I was taking home.
“Fine,” I said.
The Strapping German pushed her rear end around, making her body parallel to the back of the trailer, Teenager tugged, and calf tipped onto her side, onto the back of the trailer. We gave her a little shove in, and, suddenly I realized that the Strapping German and I were facing four very sharp hooves that were cocked. I stepped forward with a ‘Mom’s arm seatbelt’ move across his chest, saying, “Watch out she’s gonna kick you,” only to receive a 12 gauge shot into the side of my left knee.
My loud cry must have scared the cow, because she quickly drew her legs in, allowing me to step back, slam the gate closed and crumpled into a pile on the ground. My knee felt like it had exploded. Are-You-Alrights flew around me, but I couldn’t respond. Slowly I managed to shake my head in the affirmative, reach into my pocket, fish out my last Hello Kitty band aid and stick it to my already-swelling knee.
Suddenly I could stand.
With only a slight limp I stumbled back to the truck, grunted Thank-Yous to the fellows around me and pulled away home.
Thirty minutes later trailer, truck, and I unloaded the calf in our pasture at home. The calf was skinny and wormy so I decided to put her in a 12 acre field full of fresh, spring grass.
As I watched her so easily trot out of the trailer, I looked down at my knee, patting Hello Kitty ever so gentle. “You and me, Kitty,” I said. ”You and me.”