Lisa Hamblen Hood: Through the Fence 1-3-11
“Do you want to thank me now or later?” my husband asked me excitedly over the phone one day. He explained that my bottle-feeding days were over because he had purchased a wonderful brown Jersey nurse cow at the auction.
I named her Bessie. Her first customer was a blind calf. Since they were complete strangers, she was not about to let him come near her. Although he was very hungry, he couldn’t find her udder. We tied her up for a few days until they got used to each other, and he was able to nurse. We brought in a couple more calves, and within a few weeks, she had more than she could feed.
One day my husband pulled up and opened the trailer. Out stepped a huge black cow with an intimidating demeanor. The sassy toss of her head seemed to say, “I am too old to put up with this nonsense!” She had a light tan stripe that ran down her spine. My husband called her Stripe, but soon I had lots of other names for her, none endearing.
We tried to be patient with her, but she kicked and butted the little calves all over the stall. Some of the smaller calves cowered in the corner, preferring hunger to a confrontation. We had to stand over her with a long fiberglass cattle prod, whacking her between the eyes whenever she even thought of lifting a back leg.
One night my husband had to work late, and I had to deal with Stripe alone. I left my 8-year-old daughter in charge of the two preschoolers. I headed to the barn to face Bessie, Stripe and a bunch of thirsty calves accustomed to an early dinner.
The two cows stood calmly at the gate, while the little calves frolicked in the night air. The blind calf was now too big for nursing, but too helpless to put out in the pasture with the other calves. Penned in the lot, he wandered aimlessly, bumping into troughs, gates and other calves.
I poured a bucket of feed to distract the calves. Stripe charged in amongst them and had her udder assaulted by three calves at one. Then I let Bessie in, and an indescribable pandemonium ensued. She ran to the calves’ feed trough for a quick bite, and I sprinted up the hill and shooed her into the barn. Her full udder flopped from side to side squirting milk as she ran, with six or eight calves in hot pursuit.
Somehow, some of the larger calves jumped into the fray, nosing out the younger ones who needed the first chance at the teats. I grabbed the blind calf by the ears and ran him out of the barn. I had a harder time with the rest. I finally just started whacking them all randomly with the big red prod in hopes of getting the right calves on the right udder. All the while, I was crying tears of fatigue and frustration one moment and screaming and cussing my husband the next. I knew I could never tackle this job alone again.
I finally got Bessie and the smaller calves safely into the stall. Suddenly our guard light flickered on momentarily, only for me to discover that Stripe was nowhere in sight. I shone the flashlight into the darkness of the pasture and saw only dozens of greenish goat eyes and heard Stripe lowing in the distance.
Right then, I knew I was done with Stripe for good. I wasn’t about to go bring her up to the barn, even though I knew she would be miserable by morning and her calves might go hungry. I didn’t care.
Besides, I had my own offspring to think about, back at the house choking down frozen dinners, watching late night television programming. Three days later, my wish came true when we took Stripe to the sale. I smiled with satisfaction as she stepped out of the trailer. For once, bottle feeding looked almost enticing.