On Sunday I drove east towards a little village called Round Top. It’s a sleepy, gingerbread town where trees lean heavy over two lane roads and brightly colored clapboard houses perch under pecan trees, wrapped in porches, studded with rocking chairs. The kind of place I’m certain comes with birds that land on shoulders to sing. I’d love to live there. I puttered through the town’s only stop sign, cutting past buildings iced with Christmas decorations, then drove through the hills out to my destination. This was my third farm and dairy visit within one week – a favorite but most expensive way to pass the time since I rarely leave empty-handed. Once I turned down a graveled country road, I crept along, checking addresses before spotting a pasture filled with golden Jerseys. This was the place. I felt the same rush of adrenaline I used to get on Christmas eve, crouched on the landing of our stairwell with my sister, watching our mother carry packages into the living room where she tucked presents under the tree.
I’ve talked to the owner of this farm on and off for weeks. We struck up a conversation after I responded to a Craigslist ad for a cow that sold the day she posted her. It was obvious immediately we share the same philosophies about animals, and we know a lot of the same people. Like me, she started with a dairy goat, which multiplied quickly into six. Then she met a Jersey cow, fell into the doe-eyed abyss, and has never come back. She and her husband now raise Jersey cows specifically for use as home milk cows. All are halter and lead trained from birth. “Our cows will follow you like a puppy dog and look at you with those bee-you-tee-ful (this is really how she says it) eyes!” She was excited just talking about cows. This is my kind of lady. We talked about milking cows, and cheese, and cream, and animal personalities. Then she told me that her husband did not currently have any other cows he was willing to sell but, “for you,” she said, “you’re our kind of people. Let me see if I can talk him out of a cow or two.” One week later she called to tell me that, after much heartache and consideration, her husband was willing to consider selling three different animals. “I think you’ll want SugarBee, the most bee-you-tee-ful little heifer you’ve ever seen.” So I’ve been anxious to go see her.
Because of Winnie, I’ve undergone some bizarre bovine fascination. She had me sold in the looks department, immediately. Since, as my friend says, she looks just like a Disney princess – some overtly lovely cartoon character with long, batting eyelashes. “There should be little cartoon butterflies flying around that cow!” she said after first seeing a picture. But it’s the sweetness and devotion of that cow that I just can’t shake, something I’ve learned is fairly typical of the Jersey breed when handled gently from a young age. So – for this SugarBee – I had high hopes. I pulled up to Darlene’s white, wooden farmhouse, and she greeted me with a hug, “I think we’ve known each other for a very long time,” she said with a laugh and back pat, “Let’s go see your girl.” We walked into a pasture of butter-colored cows, each of whom slowly ambled up to inspect my hands and pockets before giving my arm a lick and walking away. Then up trotted a young heifer, honey-hued with charcoal dusting around her muzzle. “Here’s SugarBee!” Darlene clapped her hands, and the cow slowed to a walk, her tongue sticking out to lick my arms before she was even close enough to reach me. She leaned into my side for a head scratch. “Well, what do you think?” Darlene asked, already knowing the answer, I’m sure. “She’s bee-you-tee-ful!” I said happily.
Pending a pregnancy test, the cow will come home in the next few weeks. And now Winnie has become the watched pot that never boils, all the signs showing an impending calf coming much sooner than expected. The poor girl has had to endure lots of inspections of her business end, lots of pushing into her sides (something kicked me back! Once!), lots of hand wringing, lots of pacing. I was 85% sure she was bred, that certainty now creeping up to 99% based on the signs I’ve seen since Thanksgiving day. Add to this a heavily bred Betty, the great pyrenees guardian dog who we decided to breed one time since she and Bruce have proven to be such phenomenal guardian dogs. We are certain their offspring will be tremendous workers on other farms. Add to this four goats with widening bellies that – thankfully – aren’t due until March. Today, I spent one entire hour on the phone with Parts Department, a popular dairy supply company. I am forever indebted to a woman named Liz who patiently walked me through the necessary gaskets, valves, and pulsator speeds needed for my milking machine and milk buckets.
After months of rest, it’s time I came out of the hibernation I crawled into since last winter’s theatrics during my first kidding season. I’ve got coffee brewing. Rolled the sleeves up past my elbows. Because I chose not to have a choice when I signed up: I will be ready for anything, a terrifying but thrilling sort of reality that is – in all honesty – bee-you-tee-ful.