Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Dory the Cow

J. has had a "bee in his bonnet" for some time regarding the acquisition of a dairy cow.
For those unacquainted with the man, it needs to be set forth that once J. [or any of his maternal line] has embarked on a quest there is little that can be said to disuade, discourage, dislodge or alter the mindset.
J. has been aided and abetted in his reasoning about a family cow by Joseph Yoder, who yearns after the way of life he knew growing up on his father's Amish farm in Ontario, Canada.
J. has spent hours online viewing milk cows for sale, he has phoned sellers, he went to visit our neighbor Edward who has a herd of Jerseys.
Joseph very helpfully informed him of the cattle auction near Smith Grove and nothing for it but off we went last Tuesday to the livestock sale.

I knew better than to go.
J. and I owned [along with the bank!] a Vermont dairy farm and spent nearly a decade of our young lives believing that sheer hard work and dedication would result in creating and maintaining a viable business.
A farmer of any type is so very dependent on factors beyond human control.
 Drought, when needed crops won't grow.
A wet year when crops grow rankly and cannot be timely harvested.
The fluctuation of prices and markets which always means that the goods and services needed are high and the product by which one hopes to make a living is in decline.
Repairs to machinery and buildings;
disease or injuries that take a toll on a herd.
As I followed J. into the semi-circular gallery of hard seats which over-looked the auction ring, I found memories lurking that I would have preferred to banish.
They aren't all bitter memories, of course.
There were the summer mornings when being sent to search for a cow who had "freshened" over night in the pasture were a joy of birdsong, glistening dew, discovery; the doe-eyed calf cannily hidden behind a screen of shrubbery, so new.  A heifer calf would be raised as a replacement in the herd, a bull calf was destined for a short life--a trip on the cattle truck to just such a sale as we were attending.
The sale had its moments too. I enjoy "people-watching" and noted the trio of Mennonite males, obviously father, son and grandson who took seats across the aisle from us, arms crossed on their chests, peering from under their straw hats in a comically identical fashion.
There was the portly woman in a flowered skirt and a lime green blouse who flopped heavily into the seat beside me, causing me to pull in my elbows.
Within moments she began to struggle out of a white windbreaker.  When I turned to her, she stretched out an arm and with flapping motions indicated that I should tug at the jacket cuff while she wrenched her arm free.
One by one the "fresh" cows were driven into the ring, their calves shoved in behind them, bawling.
I had soon had enough.

J. came home convinced that the auction wasn't where he wanted to buy a cow.
On Thursday afternoon I received an e-mail from a young neighbor woman whom I had met only through her blog.  She asked if I was aware of the Mennonite quilt sale in the next county on Friday.
It was an event she hoped to attend but didn't think it would be possible as she was about to bring home a COW which she had just purchased.
"Cow?" I typed back--"My husband wants a cow--where are you buying one?"
Within moments the answer flashed back.
She had a friend in the northern end of the county who had been keeping several milk cows but chose now to sell his stock. His animals had been gently handled, were accustomed to be hand-milked, he was anxious to sell and the price was good.
Knowing full well that I was aiding in a project for which I lacked total enthusiasm, I went outside and bellowed over the roar of the chainsaw,
" I know where there is a COW for sale!"
J. made a phone call, flung on clean shirt and jeans and we went hurtling up a series of winding roads into the dusk.
Emerging from a tunnel of trees we pulled into the gravel drive beside a tidy small barn.
Framed in the headlights was a cow.
We both began to laugh, she was such a comical sight.

The next morning found us on the same  road in the old Dodge with the horse trailer trundling behind.

Dory the Cow must have wondered why she had been milked and left to stand in the barn!

A black cat twined about our ankles while we talked with Dory's owner and his sons.
Dory was persuaded to enter the trailer for her journey home.

Safely landed in our dooryard, I suggested J. use Pebbles' lead rope, but he had a stiff western lariet in the truck and felt it would work to unload Dory and get her into the pasture.

It worked--for about a minute.
Unfortunately the stiff loop which you see flattened nicely through the ring on Dory's halter when she gave a tug!

As I snapped this photo Dory broke free and began to amble determinedly off to the north of the house.
Glaring at J. I declared, "There was no need of this happening!"
[Exactly the thing to say to a husband who has just been out-witted by a bovine!]
J. snatched up a bucket of grain.  I circled to the south side of the house.
Dory who had been ambling, broke into a trot and headed down the front lawn toward the road.
There is a delicate art to rounding up a bovine. Get too close, hustle the cow and she will bolt.
Lag too far behind and she'll head down the road or across it and into an endless swamp.
Huffing along at a discreet distance, I sent up fervent prayers: "Please head that cow back where we can catch her."
Dory swerved around the mailbox, trotted a few hundred yards down the highway then capriciously began zig-zagging up along the line fence.
"Jump the ditch, " bellowed J. " Follow her up toward the fence corner!"
I do not jump, leap, or lightly traverse ditches.  I skittered down in a shower of gravel and clambered up the other side.  Dory had nearly reached the fence corner.
"I'm going to fetch Joseph", I shouted, my thought being that Joseph had more business on this cow chase than I did.
"I don't need Joseph!" roared J.  "She's in the fence corner, come get the other end of this lariet!"
I labored up the fence line to where Dory, wary-eyed, was backed into a stand of prickly wild rose bushes which rimmed the woods.
I picked up one end of the lariet and we advanced slowly, rope held chin high to create a visible but flimsy barrier.
Dory, munching weeds, watched.
I prayed.
J. shook the grain bucket invitingly.
My prayers must have been heard, for Dory stood still, nostrils flaring at the scent of grain.
J. slipped his end of the lariet through the ring and made a determined sqaure knot.

Dory parked behind the trailer with a bale of hay.

The idea behind this venture is for J. to supply cow and hay, Joseph to supply grain and housing, and he and Delilah to milk Dory. Milk to be shared.
Joseph couldn't ready the accomodations until Monday afternoon, so J. took on the milking here, well supervised by Pebbles who had misgivings about sharing her pasture with a mere cow.
When I commented that I had never seen a milker kneel to accomplish the task, I was informed that while Dory the Cow has short legs, J. does not and so adjustments had to be made to the conventional mode.
"Got milk?"
We have milk!
I am frantically thinking custards, cream soups; I have a small hand-cranked butter churn purchased yesterday at the Mennonite mercantile.
Dory is a Normandy/Jersey cross.
We hadn't heard of the Normande breed so I did a quick search.
The Normande forerunners were brought to France by the Vikings.
At one point the breed had nearly died out but now, through careful cultivation is flourishing in France.
Normandes are prized for the richness of their high-butterfat milk which is favored by cheese-makers and for their solid blocky bodies which make them a good beef animal.
They are known for placid dispositions.
Dory calmly stepped into the trailer yesterday afternoon to be moved with her sack of grain the mile and a half down the road to the Yoders.
I have ordered a 3 gallon stainless steel milk "tote" with a secure cover to convey our share of the milk from one house to the other.
Time to brush up my yogurt making skills
and think whether I want to attempt the production of cheese.


  1. What a neat, real to life farming story. I enjoyed this a lot.

    Enjoy your fresh milk and dear Dory.


  2. The feeling I'm left with at the end of this nice wee story is that your not nearly as sorry as you make out now you know you'll have fresh milk on a regular basis.

    After all, with just a wee bit of luck you wont have much involvement other than in the kitchen.....


  3. FL: J. is the one who charges ahead with enthusiasm--I follow more cautiously wondering what any given project will add to my duties! On the other hand, we're trying to raise the quality of the food we eat up a notch from the local supermarket adn that takes work!
    Al; J. has suggested we might need to acquire chickens to utilize the surplus milk--I don't like chickens--beady eyes and they peck when you try to gather their eggs!
    Hopefully his enthusiams will be diverted. I'm trying to think of milky recipes knowing there are only the two of us to plow through such a surplus.
    As long as I don't have to chase the cow......

  4. A marvelous story!! I wish I could have been there to see it! You are such a great story teller. Now, I would far rather have Dory than the spiders -- and chickens too. When I saw the black cat I thought for sure you had adopted another one. By the way, I LOVE milk, the creamier the better. My mouth waters at the photo of the inside of the fridge.

  5. How I enjoyed reading this! I hope that Dory settles down and provides you and the Yoders with plenty of milk/butter/cheese etc. She's certainly short in the leg. Nearest we have in this country is the Dexter (q.v.)

  6. How I love hearing about your growing farm spread! It is so much the kind of life I want for myself, but feel much of it is beyond the scope of one ole biddy on her own. So, baby steps to start with...I can't believe how much you all have accomplished, can it really be only a few months time?

  7. Dory is a gorgeous little cow, but I've got to say I find cows a devious group of animals at best. I've had more than one run in with them that usually ends with me running away. They don't just herd, they plot!
    Good luck. Love to know how the cheese making turns out.

  8. I found this tale fascinating and it sounds like you found an ideal cow.