Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Oh, Those Brown-Eyed Girls

"Frosty" the cow and "T-bone" the calf

I could hear screaming, but couldn’t locate the source.


Stomp, stomp, stomp…boots clattered up the back porch steps.


The back door ripped open.


Bang! (well,at least she closed the door)


My eight year old came flying into the kitchen, breathless from running.

MAMA! Come quick! Frosty is dying!

I was in the middle of breakfast preparation, at the beginning of what already promised to be a somewhat stressful day.  I attempted to calm my agitated child with little success. I was about to find out what a stressful day really was.

No, Mama, she isn’t sleeping.  Mama, she’s dy-yyyyyyy-ing!

 OH….oh….oh! Come on!

She went flying back out the door, speeding toward the barn.

When I got to the barn, I could see that Frosty was definitely NOT just sleeping.  Something was very, very wrong.

Frosty, the milk cow I had dreamed of since I was six, was lying flat on her side in the barn, making little moans with every breath. Her eyes were glazed over and she was nearly unresponsive. She did indeed look as if she was dying although she had been fine the night before. Several days earlier she had had the calf we had all been eagerly anticipating.  A nice Angus-cross bull calf that would eventually feed our family.  I had just begun milking her again. It was great to have fresh milk in the fridge. Everything had been going so well. 

But, not now. Right now things looked very bad.

I wanted to cry.

The Boss made an urgent call to the vet clinic. They assured us that someone was on their way. They gave us instructions to prop her up with hay bales (cows eventually cannot breathe lying prostrate)

And, a little while later the veterinarian walked into the barn and scared me to death. He was a smallish man, clad in black, with a huge black cowboy hat.  He was chewing tobacco and spat a little on the ground as he walked in. He assessed the situation with one cursory (and might I add, somewhat grumpy) glance.  “Looks like milk fever. hmmm, did she calve recently? ” He spat again and got out his supplies.  “Here girl, we’ll fix ya up.” At that point, I didn’t know whether to feel relieved or simply dismissed.

The short version of the story is that 3 days (and a number of vet visits) later, Frosty was fine. But, we learned a lot on that cow.  In the ten years following, we learned a WHOLE lot more.

(I must pause right here and tell you to read  "Looking for Love"   to understand a little bit of our cow saga.) 

Back to my story.

Any cow is susceptible to milk fever. (actually any mammal can suffer the malady)   Milk fever (hypocalcemia) is a serious drop in calcium levels right after birth that can kill an animal fairly quickly, if it is not corrected.  Dairy farmers can avoid this issue by addressing the nutrition issues prior to birth and know how to safely administer calcium IV’s after birth, if necessary. At the time, we knew nothing about either.

Despite my copious research prior to our cow purchase, nothing had prepared me for the frightening reality of milk fever. While I had read about it, and even asked questions about it prior to purchase, I was assured it was “no big deal”. (buying a home milk cow is rather like buying a used car.  I could tell you tales…)

I was under the delusion that you got a cow and just started milking…the cow would breed, the cow would calve…and you would keep milking.  That was not to be the case. I had a whole lot to learn about cows, nutrition, breeding, genetics and so on...and I think ol’ doc Snowdy knew that the moment he met me. Ol’ doc Snowdy loves his cows and knows them better than anyone else in the county, but I didn’t know that either.

Over the years, we had a number of brown-eyed girls that taught me (us) all sorts of lessons.


There was Frosty.  Not only did she nearly die of milk fever, she also had breeding “issues”.  But, she made some fine hamburger!


Then there was Polly.  Poor old Polly was terrified of cowboy hats.  Her bushel basket-sized udder was equipped with pinky finger-sized teats.  It took at least an hour to milk her out when she first freshened. (yes, that was twice a day) Sorry to say, I was not too sad when she finally succumbed. But, sitting there squirt-squirting for hours gave me a lot of time to think and pray. (mostly about how I really wanted to finish milking...just kidding)


And, then there was Kuh.
Kuh started out her life in a Wisconsin dairy, and somehow ended up being "Patsy" the Amish cow in the Roanoke Valley of VA.  By the time we got her, her age was indeterminable and she was a total character, loved by all. She even endeared herself to visitors from Kenya. Read this. If you gave her a cinnamon roll, she was yours for life! Everybody cried when old Kuh-ie left the farm. Kuh managed to find contentment no matter the circumstances. A lesson we would all do well to learn.


Gracie actually picked ME out.  A local dairyman allowed us to walk with him and his herd to greener pastures and Gracie must have like the taste of my sweater.   For a cow, Gracie was bold and opinionated. And, she was incredibly smart.  She was a great cow.  (…and ol’ Doc Snowdy’s favorite)


Penny was Gracie’s daughter.  She was the penultimate of our success in home dairying. She was proof that we finally understood nutrition, breeding and cows in general. 

…and then it was time to move on.

I will always appreciate that the Boss indulged me in my desire for a family milk cow even though it cost a fortune and I cried and worried more than I ever have about anything else. But, it was a learning experience that I will never forget, a fulfillment of a lifelong desire, and I will always be partial to those beautiful brown-eyed girls.

Lessons learned:

Our brown-eyed girls taught us to recognize and treat illness and breeding issues. I developed patience, persistence and some of the strongest forearms ever. (yes, I did milk by hand for nine of those ten years of home dairying)

Each cow had a different "personality" and needs and I learned a great deal about interpersonal relationships there in the barn.

Dairying is the most intense type of farming. Those girls have to be milked at least twice a day. Every Day. Our experiences made me truly appreciate those in the dairy industry and all they do so the rest of us have milk, butter, cheese and icecream. Dairy farmers rock, plain and simple.

Ol' doc Snowdy is the premier bovine vet in our area.  He KNOWS his cows.  I knew we had learned the lessons when he finally praised our efforts. Earning his respect was a high point.

There is nothing like a Jersey cow!

Are you following along with Holly and the other Ag Bloggers?

30 Days Bloggers


  1. We have a large jersey herd quite near to where we live Barbara and a few local farmers keep a Jersey milk cow - the milk is so delicious.

    1. Jersey milk is the absolute BEST! ...and the butter! oh my!

  2. Because I follow directions, I read the links in your post.
    1. Unfortunately, discovered about 1 ½ yrs ago I am severely dairy intolerant. And wheat intolerant.
    2. Ladysmith Black Mombazo ROCK! Just made a Pandora station for them.
    3. Realized that you use on as I use from as in: I learned a lot On/From that cow, Tom.
    4. Still wondering why you wrote "Tom" in the title post the other day. I be puzzled.

    1. Well, thank you for following directions! So many people don't...
      I'm so sorry you suffer from dairy and wheat intolerances. What a bummer!
      To address #s 3 and 4 above...the title is actually a quote from a friend. So, the word choice is not mine. And, the friend had no idea that Tom is actually "the Boss". Actually, he didn't become "the Boss" in blogland right away. I'm not sure when I made that change. And, when I tried writing it with "the Boss", but it just didn't sound right. So, be puzzled no more! ;)

    2. So Tom is your Main Squeeze? (Not to be confused with a Maine Coon.)
      5. Brown Eyed Girl by Jackson Brown. YES!!!