A couple weeks ago, I decided to go home for the weekend. After a long four-hour drive, I waltzed into my farm’s office, happy to see my parents and siblings. As I was giving my mom a bear hug, I looked down on the desk and saw a pink eartag. Number 777. Otherwise known as DD, this was the tag to one of my favorite cows – a good milk producer, a beautiful cow, and mother to several of my herd. I broke down crying. You see, an eartag on the office desk means that that cow has died. It’s more often that I see a yellow tag – the color of my parents’ herd; However, as my herd has aged, this is becoming more common for me too.
Tears streaming down my 22-year-old face, I asked my mom what had happened to DD. Looking just as sad I felt, my mom said that she thought it was probably bloody gut. This is the kind of ailment that sneaks up on a cow and takes her down really quickly, no matter how closely you watch your herd. Not knowing that DD was even sick, she hadn’t been put into our hospital pen for treatment. She didn’t show any symptoms, and then it was too late.
I share this story because recently, I’ve heard several accounts claiming that farmers don’t care about their animals. This not only saddens me, but quite frankly I also find myself offended when someone claims to know how my family treats and cares about the animals on our farm.
Because this is how much our animals mean to us:
I well up with tears and feel a deep sense of loss every time one of my cows dies. My dad can’t stand to put cows down, so he has to call someone else every time we have a cow who can’t be cured of what ails her. This isn’t because he can’t physically do it, but because the cows under his care mean so much to him that ending one’s life, even if it is the humane thing to do, is more than he can bear. My mother has spent countless hours on her stomach, in the cold and muck, helping a cow who is having difficulty giving birth to ensure that both mother and baby come through safely. One time my brothers lost it when they saw a couple truck drivers mistreating our cows as they got onto a truck to be beefed. Yes, the cows milking years were over and they were leaving our care, but it didn’t matter…our cows, from their first breath to their last, are treated with dignity and kindness. Anyone who acts otherwise is immediately fired, or, if not in my family’s employ, but on our farm (such as those truck drivers) are told politely not ever to come back.
These cows are our livelihood, and if not cared for properly, my family’s business will suffer. But for us, and for many of our agricultural friends, we care for animals not because we have to but because we love them – it’s our chosen lifestyle. From our first steps in the barn, we’ve known…animal husbandry is in our blood. We want to ensure that the animals in our care have the best, because in turn these animals take care of our customers…you. We want the best for you too. So please, next time that you hear someone say we farmers don’t care, send them my way. It’s possible they’ll encounter me giving my cow one last hug before it’s time to put her down because she has served my family well, but now it’s time for her to go. As they watch my tears, perhaps they’ll reconsider.