|No.07 standing in her preferred milking position
This Monday we said farewell to our oldest cow, number 07.
Seven was born on July 30, 2000, just a few days before I started my final year at Mississippi State University. She gave birth to her first calf…a bull…and entered the milking herd on October 14, 2002. She went on to have nine more calves (5 bulls, 4 heifers) and produce over 180,000 pounds of milk in her lifetime. She was rarely ever a top-producing cow, but she was steady and sound and never gave a bit of trouble in the milking barn.
Many cows have physical characteristics, habits, or quirks that distinguish them from their herdmates, and Seven could check all three of those boxes. She was a thick, stocky cow with big, droopy ears, and she always preferred to be milked at the front unit on the west side of our parlor. And she hated the cow dogs…absolutely HATED the cow dogs.
Evidence of her anti-caninism first came to light the day she gave birth to her second calf. Though she never directed her aggression toward my dad and I, she chased both of our border collies out of the pasture when we tried to walk her and her calf to the barn. This happened three or four times, the dogs barking and retreating every time she took a step in their direction. From that day on she would glare at any dog that got within ten feet of her, often charging them if they made the mistake of not knowing where she was.
Our fondness for her and her antics (I once jokingly suspected her of leading an "Occupy Farm Lane" protest) helped contribute to her 13+ years of residency on the farm. She hadn’t been particularly profitable her last couple of lactations, but we kept her around for the sake of keeping her around. When our veterinarian informed us this summer that he didn’t think she would ever successfully calve again, we made the decision that we would “cull” her (sell her for beef) sometime within the coming months. That day came on Monday, January 13, 2014. By then her daily milk production had dropped below 30 pounds, she had developed a persistent case of mastitis (a mammary infection) in one quarter of her udder, and just wasn’t moving around as good as she used to. Typical of her lead-cow mentality, she was the first of the eleven cows we culled that day to load the trailer that would haul her off to the stockyard. I have no way of knowing, but I imagine she probably fought her way to the front of the line for the ride that would take her from there to her next…and likely final…destination.
The idea of culling a dairy cow, especially one that has been on a farm for years, can seem harsh to those who have never owned or cared for livestock. But just like beef cattle, hogs, goats, etc., dairy cattle are food animals. Unlike some other types of livestock, they are meant to serve two distinct food production purposes: milk and beef. So no matter how fond we are of one particular cow or how much milk she’s produced for us in the past, she can’t reach her full potential to feed humanity by living out her final days on our farm. We will miss ol’ Seven and know we’ll never have another cow quite like her, but it was time for her to take the last steps toward fulfilling her complete purpose.