Can I tell you a story?
Well, it’s two stories actually. The first is a sad story, but I’ll keep it short. This summer we lost our two oldest dogs, Romeo (several weeks ago) and then Winston on Monday. LuLu, Winston, and Romeo had been with me since the beginning, since the Austin house, through many jobs and graduate school, through the land purchase. They were the first ones to give the land and pond a canine seal of approval and would happily pile into the car for a weekend of camping, then of trailer living, then finally into the permanent house. This was their farm first, and they claimed every inch of it before a single livestock stepped hoof or claw onto the soil. Losing LuLu, the dog I had for over 13 years, was devastating. Losing Romeo, a dog I rescued much to Jeremy’s dismay, was less difficult. Losing Winston, well, that represents the end of an era. Monday was a hard day. All three died at the farm and lived lives that most dogs only dream of in their deepest REM sleeps when we see their paws working in a running motion and they let out those little half-waking yipping sounds. You think they’re dreaming about chasing squirrels? Nah – they’re dreaming of running through a field, jumping into a pond, drinking goat milk and eating chicken eggs. My pups lived that life, and I’m so grateful for it.
That’s the end of that story.
The other story starts at the beginning of the summer when I started dreaming about Jersey cows. Well, that’s not accurate, the Jersey dream started back when I was very young and saw TV commercials for our state’s favorite ice cream, Blue Bell Ice Cream, the mascot for which was a Jersey cow. I remember seeing those bambi doe eyes, the tuft of bangs, the cream colored fur. It was the quintessential dairy cow, and I learned many years later that Jerseys are, in fact, prolific dairy cows in the rich, high butterfat milk they consistently produce. You want a lot of plain old milk? Get a Holstein. But if you want to be making butter and ice cream, then you’ll want to find yourself a Jersey. Let me stop for a minute and make a note: I’m not playing favorites with cow breeds. I happen to adore Dexter cows, the breed we’ve always had and one I chose because they too have incredibly rich milk. Being a dual purpose, small-statured breed, they produce less milk then a standard dairy cow but provide enormous advantages including rich, lean beef and the ability to thrive in stark conditions. As I think more about cheese and the types I’d like to eventually produce here, I know that having a few Jerseys could greatly improve what I can offer, not just through butter, but by having cream to add to a goat milk based triple creme brie (I completely understand if you just died and went to cheese heaven). And, as much as I intend to focus on goats, I have always been open to incorporating cow milk into the future plan either through the Dexters, who will always be a source of beef here, Jerseys, or a combination of both. With that in mind, I started some casual craigslist searches and wrote to a few dairies, starting to inquire about the cost and availability of Jerseys. What I learned is this 1) there’s no shortage of Jerseys, and 2) most Jerseys are either three times what I can afford or are affordable because they’ve been used as nurse cows for orphaned beef calves and tossed into ranch herds, not tame or used to humans. It looked like the Jersey dream would have to wait for a financial windfall or some other good fortune. I could not shake the image of one cow in particular, located almost five hours away and at the highest end of my budget. In addition to being in beautiful condition, she was well-tamed, comfortable around all manner of farm animals and – most importantly – the ad assured, “She does give kisses.” I contacted the owner immediately. The owner sent me a video of the cow walking on lead, demonstrating her temperament and condition, but her price was non-negotiable although the owner needed to downsize for various reasons. I made myself forget about this cow.
Early this week, I did another craigslist search for cows, a daily habit that Jeremy desperately hopes I will kick. A Jersey was for sale just down the road for a bargain price, and I quickly went for a visit. While this was a gentle and beautiful animal, it was evident she’d been a poorly managed nurse cow, not used as a home milk cow. It made me think again about the cow that gives kisses in east Texas. I hadn’t looked her up in nearly two months and figured there was no chance she was still for sale, or if she was, knew her price was still too high. But she was still for sale and her price had dropped. The owner re-posted the cow on the same day that Winston died and the cow, the exact color of my beloved dog with a patch of white on her chest and at the tip of her nose just like him, was suddenly exactly within my price range. I called and spoke to the owner. She dropped the price due to an urgent need to downsize, had received many inquiries since then but was wary of everyone except, apparently, me. She was eager enough for this cow to go to a good home that she agreed to deliver her to me the very next day.
Now, let me pause again here especially for those reading who are thinking about the purchase of livestock: I handled this all wrong and anyone will tell you that you must never purchase a cow (or goat, or llama, or horse or anything really) sight unseen. However, after speaking with the cow’s owner (Brenda) at length about the animal’s care and, most importantly, having the video evidence, it seemed like a fairly educated gamble. So I gambled. And so far, luck seems to have worked in my favor as the cow that stepped out of the trailer yesterday evening was more beautiful and sweet then what I imagined. Although she was in the process of being dried off, it appears she’s still in milk, and I intend to try and get her production up again, enough to have some Jersey butter in the fridge and cream in my coffee. She’s been living with a milking shorthorn bull and may be bred but if not, that’s ok, too. She’s a young girl originally from a dairy in the hill country with just enough sass to take care of herself but clearly respects human creatures thanks to Brenda’s hard work. The experience of meeting Brenda itself was an unexpected treat. She is a lovely woman who shares my passion for raw milk and animals, and she showed up with a batch of delicious blueberry mozzarella. I sent her home with some feta. I think we’ll stay in touch.
Although the cow’s name was Cream, I re-named her Winnie the Moo. Her coloring, those soulful eyes, the bizarre fact that she was re-posted the day Winston died; it’s a strange tribute to a dog, perhaps, but calling for Winnie at the fence and seeing a honey-blonde animal come loping through the trees will keep his memory close. It’s a good story, and I needed one of those this week.
Oh, and it’s true, she does give kisses.