We sold the milk cows.
Imagine taking a sharp knife and attempting to slice off all of the emotional aspects of a decision to make it easier. You won’t succeed.
After the fire at our shop, we were left with two facts that we could not ignore.
- On average, we spend an hour or more a day either repairing something we use daily on the farm or improving something. Flat tires, squeaky bearings, broken feed augers; and the list goes on. Every tool we owned was lost in the fire, from simple claw hammers to specialty tools, to the homemade necessities we had crafted over the years.
- There are four long conveyors that carry the silage from the silos to the feedway. All of these ran by our shop. The fire burned the closest conveyor from one end to the other and melted the belts apart on the remaining three. Until these are replaced and/or repaired we cannot feed silage.
Without quality silage, the cows would slowly drop in milk production. Without tools, we would find ourselves unable to repair even the most mundane problem. Caring for the milk cows over the weekend was a struggle under the circumstances, but we were all in agreement that we didn’t have to win every battle in order to win the war. The fire was only the beginning, it would seem.
Selling the cows would enable us the time to regroup and rebuild without them having to suffer as we tried to keep everything going. Monday afternoon after the fire, we milked the entire herd for the last time and loaded them up to go to a dairy auction.
I can imagine a new mother with no other options leaving an infant in a basket on a doorstep with deep feelings of abandonment and fear for her child. The cows are not my children, but as a farmer, the lines are often blurred. We have raised generations of dairy cows from birth to adulthood. We have fed them, nurtured them, and took pride in our girls as they joined the milk herd and had calves that succeeded them. Loading them one at a time, with the realization with each cow that we would never see them again, was a trauma repeated eighty times until the last trailer left the farm.
As painful as that was, selling the milk cows was a different experience entirely. The girls sold individually at a dairy auction. As each came into the ring, I read off the date she calved and how much milk she produced from our monthly dairy records. I took pride with each cow as she paced and pranced for the crowd. Our cows were good cows, and the prices they brought reflected it.
Today we are coming to terms with a new normal, one that doesn’t include rising early to milk the cows. We still have all of our heifers, calves, and dry cows to feed and care for daily. Will we use them and return to milking? Will we engage in a new enterprise on our farm? The Magic 8-ball says, “Reply hazy, try again.” In the meantime, we are exploring our options and preparing to rebuild.