Sunday, January 2, 2011

I Miss The Cows

You can take the boy out of the farm, but you can't take the farm out of the boy. Don't know who said this, but truer words were never spoken.

I grew up on a farm, not much of a farm mind you, 200 acres of rocks, swamp, bush, and fields shaped like bagels and amoebas. A few motley beef cattle, some laying hens and a gaggle of geese roamed its quiet acreage.

Dad was a World War II veteran. When he returned to Canadian soil, he courted one of the local lasses, who became his bride within the year. Grateful to be alive, and exhausted from his military efforts, Dad chose a quiet country life, one far removed from the beaches of Normandy, the unceasing roar of artillery and his commanding superiors. Mom's parents were anxious to move off their home farm, and the opportunity to purchase his own land lured Dad into an agreement with his in-laws.

For a few years, Mom and Dad milked a small herd of Shorthorn cross cattle, and shipped cream to the local dairy. About this time the quota system began to enter Ontario. Also, Mom's growing brood of children were demanding more and more of her time, time that had formerly been spent in the barn helping Dad. A decision was reached to stop milking and simply raise beef calves from the existing herd.

This was about the era that I entered the scene. I was the youngest of four and really the only one who liked the cattle. That would include Dad, who if truth be known, hated cattle, but kept ours around for the wee bit of cash they brought in and maybe just to humour his youngest son.

I loved to go and visit the cows. It was always an adventure to locate them. Cows that know they are being hunted can be amazingly silent. We did eventually bell the lead cow, but then the neighbours complained about knowing where our cows were, from three miles away. 

We always had a bull running with the girls in the summer;  that always added to the adventure. My parents always warned me to keep away from the cattle (a bull can be dangerous). So there I was, not even in school yet, wandering about 200 acres, searching for new calves with the potential of Taurus breathing fire down my neck. Of course, the fact that our bulls were known by such innocuous titles  as Chum, Chum II and Charley, did not really add a great sense of menace in my young mind.

Jackie was my first favourite. A black white faced, Holstein/Hereford hybrid, Jackie entered the world as a tiny premie who quickly captured the hearts of everyone around. Even Dad kind of liked her. At that point, cattle were at an all time low, pricewise, so it didn't take a lot of convincing on my part to convince dad to keep her as a potential brood cow. For the next decade or better, Jackie brought home a fine steer or heifer, which Dad marketed in the fall once they were weaned.


One of those fine offspring, became my first cow. By this time, I was old enough to be doing a lot of the barn chores, and since money didn't hang in clusters around the farm, Dad gave me a heifer calf in lieu of payment. The option was to sell her as a weanling or keep her as a brood cow. Isobel, of course was spared an early demise.

 Isobel was a bit of a slug. She was very fat, very lazy and lacked personality. But she was mine, and a more petted, pampered and spoiled bovine never switched flies off her back. Stingy in her milk production, her calves were usually the smallest runts to be weaned each fall.

And then there was Blossom. By my teenage years, I had a summer job with a neighbouring farmer helping in the haying process. When everyone else was busy buying brand name jeans and rock albums, I was scrimping and saving to get me another cow. Why does the term 'loser' leap to mind?

But back to Blossom, at the local livestock auction, which I attended as often as transportation could be wheedled, a wild-eyed ugly brindled cow and her newborn calf entered the ring. Snorting and pawing the ground, she didn't garner much interest in the crowd, but she did fall in my price range. The gavel banged in my direction. 


 So Blossom became one of the herd, and while she did add a certain flavour to the farm, it was the newborn that caught everyone's attention.  Jenny was like a little fawn, blonde, lithe and willowy (the Farrah Fawcett of cows). She grew into a fine, big, robust cow. 

Genetics never cease to amaze and bamfoozle me. There was no explanation as to why such a non-descript as Blossom produced this fine specimen. Try as I might in later years, with much better breeding stock, I was never able to improve upon the chance-breeding that was Jenny.

And that is about all I have to say for today.

Musings and meanderings from the Musical Gardener

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