By Betty Lassa-Blauvelt
It’s been several months and I still wake up early and take a walk out to the barn. But it’s a memory walk. No more hustle and bustle, no activity or movement except for the cats sitting around their dish waiting for warm milk to be poured into it. No more greeting the “ladies” and listening to their soft
“mmm” as they reply. Several of them eagerly wait for their calves to be let out and united with their mothers for sucking down their breakfast.
As I stand there looking at the empty stanchions, my imagination goes back to when I’d grab the stool and sit beside each cow as I squeezed her teats to release her valuable milk. I’d talk to her of the day’s weather and upcoming activities as she relaxed and let down her milk.
But low milk prices, higher feed costs, mechanical repairs and vet bills have forced small dairy farmers to call it quits. Unable to make a living milking cows, they have no choice but to sell out. For three years now, Wisconsin has led the nation in farm bankruptcies. For most farmers, farming is not just a job; it’s a way of life. Cows are more than just an income and livelihood. They are part of the family. A farm family is committed to their animals; loving and caring for them as family members.
That’s why for most small farmers, it can be a very emotional time to have to give up their animals. As I watched Ruby, Daisy, Betsie, Josie and others being loaded into the cattle trailer headed for slaughter, I had the guilty feeling of betrayal. They trusted me to do whatever was good for them. They had licked my arm with their sandpaper tongue to show their affection and appreciation when I’d fed them and given them treats out of my hand.
I was there to help deliver their calves and then to guide the calves to their feet to find their mother’s milk. I’d treated sick calves back to health. With nothing to lose, I mixed a home remedy of raw egg and cornstarch. With his head on my lap, I slowly poured it into his mouth as I rubbed his throat encouraging him to swallow. Several treatments of this along with much talking and petting brought results. Lazarus came alive, became stronger and grew into a fine young steer.
When 6-month-old Polly turned up with a bad knee, we separated her so we could more easily work on her knee each day. As she got better, she would jump the gate as we walked away and then follow us around the yard. She grew to love being around people over her own kind.
So when evening comes and I head for the barn with a cup full of “store-bought” milk for the cats, Old Shep looks up into my face waiting expectantly to hear the words, “go get the cows.”