The number one thing that annoys me the most that almost every activist I’ve tried talking to has said to me is that dairy farmers are only in business for the profit and not because they care about the animals. This is the number one way to tell who has and hasn’t ever actually been on a farm before. No matter what or how many stories we tell them of things we’ve actually experienced, a lot of times they still refuse to see our side. So if you really want to know about how dairy farmers feel about their cows, well here is a story of something that happened to me just last month.
In order for this story to really be understood, we have to start at the beginning. For those who don’t know me, I showed cows with my local 4-H at the county fair from when I was thirteen years old to when I was nineteen years old. It all started with my lineback, Katy, but after her came two Holsteins, Primmy and Eclipse. About two years ago now, Eclipse passed away at the age of five and a half, which is getting up their in age for a cow. Think about that similar to dog years, and that will tell you just about how old she was. Since then, my cows that were related to her have come to mean a lot to me, those being her daughters and granddaughters and now great granddaughters. This story includes all three of them.
We have many animals on our farm, including alpacas. The story of last month begins with one of our alpacas once again getting what is called a menengial worm, that attacks them from the inside and makes it so they can’t get up. Both of our boy alpacas had this last year, and now one of them, Coal, caught it again. So last month was at first spent getting him back on his feet and getting the worm out of him.
Secondly, one of Eclipse’s daughters, Neptune, had her calf a week early. Sometimes this is ok to happen in cows, but a lot of times it isn’t, because a calf might not be fully developed yet or it might make the cow sick. I have had it happen a few months ago where a calf was born a week early and died eight days later, and then this time with Neptune, it hit her instead of her calf.
A disease that cows can commonly get is called milk fever. Milk fever is the reason that for certain cows who aren’t as strong as some are given calcium right after calving. It is usually caused by a temporary blood calcium deficiency. It is something that can and does happen often, and a lot of times can only be treated when you know for sure the cow has it. The biggest sign of this is the cow having trouble standing on her own.
Milk fever also most of the time only appears in cows that have had an unprecedented birth, such as having a calf a week early. If you have yet to see where I’m going with this, here it is. Neptune ended up getting milk fever not long after her calf was born, though not as badly as she could’ve gotten it.
The third thing happening last month happened to Neptune’s niece and Eclipse’s granddaughter, Hazel. I’m still not fully sure what exactly happened here, but somehow Hazel ended up falling and getting stuck on something and hurting her leg, so much so that she could no longer get up in her stall in the heifer barn. This was a few weeks before she was set to have her first calf. Originally the plan was to move her down to the main barn, because of her about to have a calf and also now because she couldn’t get up herself. But when we got her down to the main barn, she couldn’t get up there either. So she ended up being put in a closed off space outside while her leg healed.
Now I’m used to things happening to my animals all the time. In my experience that’s just a part of taking care of any animal. But never before have I found myself having to worry about three different animals at once. There were some days last month where I didn’t know if I could take it. One specific day I remember us trying to help get Neptune to stand, which is one of the most important things to do when one has milk fever, is to not let them become a down cow. A down cow is one who cannot get up at all and will probably never get up again, leading to eventual death. In my time with my specific cows, I have only had that happen once many years ago and it is not something that I ever wanted to see happen again. This specific day Neptune mooed when we were helping her up, a sound that struck me right to the heart, so much so that I had to go by myself into the milk house for a few minutes, as I was suddenly on the edge of having a panic attack. I’ve only had a few panic attacks in my life, and each one of them has been because of my animals in some way. It was that day when it struck me that I might lose them all.
But something that has always gotten me through the hard times is praying. I had been praying before, but that night I prayed even harder for all of them to be alright. And eventually things started to get better. Neptune got over her milk fever and she and her calf are completely fine. Hazel had her calf with no problems at all and while she still has to go outside every day and will continue to for a while, she is on the mend. And Coal just recently began to slowly be able to stand by himself, which led to walking by himself, which led to every so often being able to get up by himself.
So the moral of this story is actually a few things. 1) Prayer works. Don’t ever let yourself think that it doesn’t. 2) No matter what anyone else says, dairy farmers care and love their animals. We wouldn’t be outside caring for them 24/7 if we didn’t. I honestly don’t know what I would’ve done last month if I had lost any of them, or worse all three of them. I would’ve been heartbroken to say the least, and not because it would mean a loss of profit on our farm, which if it did, it would’ve been barely any.
In case you didn’t know, June is Dairy Month. And this dairy month, if you really want to know more, go visit a local farm. Ask your local farmer questions about their work, or contact one through social media or the Internet. Most would and are happy to tell about what they do. Dairy month is an important month for so many. Celebrate it. Educate yourself. Talk to farmers, and don’t believe everything you hear from people who’ve never actually been on a farm.