On Saturday I said good-bye to Elsie, Georgie and Hannah. As you, my plucky readers, know, I've not been being able to wean Hannah. Neither heifer nor cow wants their Mommy/Daughter time to end. With Hannah only ten days away from being 6 months old, this weaning process has now taken half her life. That's three months with Elsie locked away from her little herd, crying for them. Cows are herd animals. That means they need to be with other cows.
Two weeks ago, I had to stare at the fact that nothing I could do was going to work and I couldn't offer them the life that I intended for
them. That left me considering other options, none of them good. I could dry up Elsie, which would certainly resolve the situation. But that meant no milk to sell and no way to offset the cost of their hay.
Also, Elsie has another calf on the way. If this wasn't an aberration and just the way Elsie is--a determined mother, then I'd find myself in the same dilemma come August.
The second option was to find a place for Elsie to stay for a month or two, so Mama would be out of sight and, hopefully, out of mind for Hannah. That was pie-in-the-sky, because there was no guarantee Hannah wouldn't recognize her mother when Elsie came back and I'd be in the same situation of having to keep them apart for as long as Elsie was in milk. And again, I was left buying hay for two unproductive animals while Elsie was gone.
The final option was to sell Elsie. Again, that left me supporting two unproductive animals until Hannah has her first calf, some 18 months from now. That's when I realized I had to sell them all to someone who could keep them in a herd the way I had expected to do. Keeping Georgie here by himself would be the same as keeping Elsie separated from the calves.
I immediately knew who I needed to call. I have a dairy friend in Williamson Valley. Like me, Becky is passionate about Jersey cows.
Addicted, maybe, because at first she told me she didn't need another cow. I waited. Sure enough, a week later she emailed again and asked for Elsie's bio. I gave it to her with complete honesty. I told her that Elsie is friendly enough, stubborn, food aggressive, that I'm not entirely certain she's pregnant. I included that she's antsy in the stanchion, doesn't care for hand milking (Becky only hand milks) and is fiercely protective of her babies when strange dogs are around (Becky's dogs will be strange to Elsie), even if one baby happens to be an orphan unrelated to her.
God bless Becky. She still bit. She and her milking assistant arranged to come to see Elsie. Much to my surprise, they instantly fell in love with her. Then they saw Hannah and fell in love all over again. When Becky asked if I'd consider selling Hannah as well, I replied with "Only if you also take Georgie."
Within minutes the two of them were arranging their three new animals.
Elsie will be kept with a couple of their in-milk cows who will be less likely to bully a newcomer (apparently, Elsie isn't the only cow with "bossy" tendencies), while Hannah will be paired with another heifer around her own age who has the unlikely name of Hannah. Meanwhile, Georgie is joining another little steer who's younger than the other steers and needs a playmate. That was all I needed to know I'd made the right decision.
Had I needed confirmation of my decision, I got it on Friday. I brought Elsie up to milk her, got the milker set up and turned on the vacuum pump. The pulsator started clicking, but the teat cups wouldn't hold.
I fussed with the milker for a moment, then the ancient vacuum pump made a strange noise. As I watched it failed in front of my eyes. I took that as a Divine message that I was done with milking and cows, at least for the time being and no matter how much I didn't like it.
Pump or not, Elsie still needed to be milked. Knowing Becky was coming to pick them up the next day made the decision about hand milking her moot. My cows had one more day here and they were going to spend it together. I released Hannah and Georgie. They raced up to the stanchion to join Elsie. Hannah latched onto immediately and did the milking for me while Elsie spent a full hour grooming Georgie. They spent the rest of the day doing what they'd always done when together:
grazing, terrorizing turkeys, trying to steal the chicken food hidden under the coop, trying to break into the hay storage and generally running rampant over the property. That evening, I put them all in Elsie's side of the corral, thinking it would be easier to keep them all in one place for loading in the morning.
Sure enough, once Becky's husband got the trailer lined up with the gate, all I needed was the last bit of Chaffhaye (I think I mentioned I've been buying this fermented alfalfa from Tres Hermanas for the last month after I noticed that Georgie and Elsie were having trouble keeping weight on this winter) to lead them into the trailer. I think loading took all of five minutes with no lead ropes involved and no pushing necessary, except to lift Hannah's foot so she knew how high to step.
Then I watched in tears as Becky and her husband drove off. I'm very sad. I'll miss them all incredibly, but it would be far sadder and much more stressful, not to mention expensive, for me to find some way to keep them here. Listening to Elsie mourn over being kept by herself day in and day out has been very difficult.
But here's the best part. As Becky left, she made me with a promise that I can buy them back any time I want.