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Should She Stay or Should She Go?

One of the biggest struggles I’ve had with becoming the wife of a dairy farmer is the process of culling out the herd. To Donald, it’s merely a business decision.

And for me, that was odd, because I have no problem applying the concept of “culling” in the other areas of my life. From deleting toxic friends off my Facebook page to bagging up clothes in my closet that I know will never fit me and I will never wear again, I’m not one to keep things around unless a useful purpose is being served. My husband (who still has every T-shirt he’s ever received since high school) has a different theory on what to keep outside the farm, but that’s a whole other blog!

That being said, when it comes to the four-legged ladies in my front yard, it’s a different story. My first experience was after we went to a farm and bought a couple of nice Ayrshire cows private treaty. We were excited about their pedigrees and the potential to continue improving the genetics of our Ayrshire “sub- herd.” Donald had concerns about their adaptability from a loose-bedding barn to our free stalls, as well as the fact that they were used to one person quietly caring for them, in contrast to our rather boisterous operation, but he didn’t think either were obstacles we couldn’t overcome.

One cow, Sybil, fit right in, and the other struggled every step of the way. After Scarlet had a bull, insisted on laying in the alleys (mud, manure, anything but the sand in the stalls), fought with the other cows and continued to kick the daylights out of whoever milked her, I reluctantly agreed that it was time for her to go. I hated it, because she was a big-framed, beautiful cow, but she wasn’t adapting to her new home. Scarlet wasn’t a “bad” cow. In the right environment, she would no doubt be a great cow...she just couldn’t fit in with our herd and reach her potential.

And then there was Lois (Farmore Red-Mark Loni Lois EX-93), who gave Keri many wonderful years in the showring, as well as giving the farm (and breeders across the country) numerous outstanding daughters. Donald sold her in 2010 and then traveled to Atlanta to buy her back in 2013. We took her to Pine-Tree to IVF her and soon, she became the Grand Dame of the farm, again. But she was dry, hadn’t seen a parlor in years, couldn’t walk on concrete and was starting to have a tough time getting around. Winter was approaching and we knew that if that big girl went down, there was no way we would be able to get her back up. I couldn’t go to the barn that day. It was the right thing to do, for Lois and for the farm, but it was still tough to make the decision to let her go. However,I find comfort in the fact that we have lots of new heifers from Lois who will hopefully carry on her legacy.

Of course, there are the ones that I’d love to lead to the trailer myself! One I can think of in particular is a complete pain-in-the-rear cow that thinks she runs the farm. Donald nicknamed her “Watchdog,” because she is constantly into everyone’s business. Whether it’s hanging around the parlor door after milking (almost like she’s eavesdropping on us), barreling her way to the feed trough, bullying the new cows or butting me around the feedlot, her lack of manners is often overlooked. Why? Because she’s a good producer, she breeds back quickly, she’s given us more heifers than bulls, and she’s the last daughter out of Keri’s EX show cow, Electra. So we put up with her, because her good traits somehow continue to outweigh the bad ones, much to my chagrin.

As with anything else in life, there are always exceptions to the rules...which is why there is a 4-year-old Guernsey cow in our herd, with an udder that has the teat placement of a weather vane and not a single daughter on the ground. In her defense, she was a 2x All-American nominee as a heifer, Maggie’s first 4-H project and she milks fairly well. Most important, she is the reason why Donald and I reconnected (and got married) after 25 years of not seeing one another.

Keeping her goes against everything Donald believes in when it comes to herd management, and everything I profess in order to maintain a productive lifestyle, but we agree to disagree. Sometimes, we can’t always practice what we preach.

And, Donald can no longer say nothing good ever comes from a Guernsey...unless he wants to bunk with the aforementioned cow.

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