The milk cows are gone.
The parlor is empty. I miss the sound of the metal gates clinking, and the loud rumble of the milk compressor kicking on in the evening.
Inside the milk house is an empty tank, cleaned and ready— for a period of bareness.
It’s happened before, only this time I fear it is the last.
As I watch the trucks and trailers pull out of the farm lane, I fought to hold back the tears. I’m bad at not crying. I wanted so badly to be strong like the men in my life.
There are not enough deep breaths or attempts to squeeze my eyes shut to prevent the tears from rolling free.
So I turn my back, look upon those last remaining cows standing in the shed and cried.
They are just cows.
They come and they go.
Or at least I tried to remind myself.
Silly girl. Crying over cows!
They’re not pets. They’re farm assets.
Yet I couldn’t convince myself enough to stop crying.
Even though I didn’t hold any official ownership over these dairy cows, I knew them by name – not numbers. I knew which ones preferred to be milked on the left side or the right side of the milk parlor. I knew which ones kicked and the one that liked to bluff. I know which calves belong to them.
And then there was Jenny. The Holstein last summer that I refused to allow anyone to give up on. You saw the video here of the day she first walked through the parlor after recovering from pinching nerve in her back after delivering a Hereford cross bull calf.
That same Hereford stared back at me from inside the shed. Now a year old, no longer a bull, but a steer. Maybe I’m just crazy, but by the look of his large dark eyes, he knew his mother was on that last trailer.
Here in the summer, Jenny had another calf. A heifer that frolics in the calf pen on the other side of the shed. She’s pure Holstein and she’ll stay here to be raised for next year or so at least.
Before the trucks pulled out, the new owner offered if I was ever in the area for me to stop in and visit his farm and see the cows again. It was a kind offer. One I feel was made only because the chance he felt of me actually showing up at his farm one day are slim.
If only the new owner knew that for three years I lived in the small town on the West Virginia border beside where his farm is located while my husband was student teaching and working on his PH.D. at the West Virginia University. I loved that little town and the people in it. I still do, and keep in touch with many of them thanks to social media. But now I’m heading down a cow path and need to get back to the cows.
I wipe my eyes and turn back on the cows to look ahead at the rest of the farm, and to my dad. I can’t speculate the future–not for the cows — not for our family—not what lies ahead for the farm.
While this is sometimes the way of life. It’s a business.
As I mentioned, we’ve had to do this once before during a time when my dad was in the hospital, had surgery, and was off his feet for some time. With all other options assessed, there was no other choice. The milk cows had to go.
Once more my dad’s headed back to the hospital for surgery. My brother can’t run the farm alone, and as God has it at this moment I’m too far away to pull the extra weight from anyone’s shoulders.
Farming takes more than one man or one woman to operate. Tweet This
That’s just how most businesses operate in the dairy industry. Perhaps one day when children are older or other halves don’t have to travel so far for work outside the farm, things will change. I don’t know. It’s in God’s hands now.
To the new owner of our cows.
Dear fellow dairyman,
Nothing personal, but just wanted to let you know that one day I will be stopping in to check on the cows. If I’m not able, please know I have friends who don’t live far from your dairy that will happy to do so for me. I wish you all the best as you enter this new way of living and pray that these cows bring a blessing to you and your family.
So without the milk cows, where does that leave the family farm?
That my friends is a bunch of ideas still developing and I promise you’ll be the first to know.
Feature photo credit: Jess Johnson via Flickr CC