” I want your life. ” Things to consider if considering a cow.

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I hear it time and again: ‘ I want your life’

People learn that I have dairy cows and beef cows, live in a restored farm cottage and raise much of our own food and they get wistful and ‘ooh’ and ‘ahh’ at the idea of fresh food and livestock surrounding a quaint country cottage in a remote town.  It is romantic.  It is cozy.  It is peaceful.

It is hard.

It is a hard way of life.  It is often a stressful way of life.  It is an all-consuming way of life.

People imagine bucolic pastures and contented cows that give milk on demand and at the farmer’s leisure.  What they don’t –and can’t–imagine is what a struggle it is to get a cow to give milk at times nor how much daily work goes into each and every cow to keep her healthy and in milk.

They don’t imagine the worry that goes with the wonder of owning and breeding livestock.

They don’t imagine that the cute cow they see in photos on social media, happily being milked by a cheerful milk maid tried to kill her keeper in her training period.

They don’t imagine how inherently clumsy and dangerous cows are( my best friend says that cows don’t know where their ends are sometimes),–nor do they imagine how moody and unpredictable a cow in estrus or close to calving can be.

They don’t imagine being chased across a field by a mad mama cow and hoping you make it to the gate before she catches you.

They don’t imagine a perfectly lovely, trained, 800 lb. dairy girl walking across your toes in the parlor because you forgot to pull your foot back. Or being pressed hard against a solid wall by a sweet cow who was just not paying attention to where you were.

They don’t imagine many things in those moments of envious reverie.

They see the beautiful, lush pastures but do not see the mud in the common areas or the flies that swarm everything and cover up your house and car and bite you and the cows.

People admire beautiful cows in great condition but have no idea how much planning, time and money goes in to keeping them that way.

I don’t buy expensive clothes, I buy expensive cow minerals.

I don’t ‘ get away’–I get up before the sun.     Every. Single.Day.

No one who doesn’t live it can imagine the life of a farmer: The work involved that is back breaking and heart breaking.  The losses you suffer become part of you, sometimes teaching you and sometimes just hurting you.

Keeping the barns, the parlor, the yards, the troughs etc…clean and tidy is no easy feat.

Keeping the animals healthy and happy is not something that comes naturally to anyone, it is a science–and an art.

No days off, kids ! Rain, snow, ice storm, hurricane…doesn’t matter.  Animals still have to be cared for, worried over, milked…

Sick??? Tough.  The work isn’t going to do itself and I promise you won’t be able to afford someone to do it for you.  No one wants your job but you.

Broken bone? too bad.  Get to work.  I once walked ( dragged, stumbled, leaned, hopped) around for two and a half weeks on a broken ankle with the tendons torn completely away before I could make it to a doctor and have corrective surgery.

The feed bills are not something that comes to mind either: grain, hay, alfalfa, minerals…even if you plant and harvest your own , it costs ya !

The equipment is not on anyone’s mind either: tractors, hay forks, troughs, milking machines, etc…

So many expenses that no one considers.

Veterinary care: maintenance vetting ( dehorning etc ) is quite costly, but there is major expense if something goes wrong., Budget devastating if something goes REALLY wrong. My highest single event vet bill was $3200 and I lost the cow.  Sometimes, even finding a good farm vet is impossible depending on your area.  If that is the case, I really advise not having a cow.  If something goes wrong and you can’t handle it, you will blame yourself for a loss due to lack of vetting.

Time.  There’s one to consider ! Especially if you work outside the home as I do helping my husband and my son with their businesses.  There are only so many hours in a day and there are always so many things on your list, not counting your normal ‘ duties’ like cleaning, laundry, cooking, helping your kids with whatever they need of you…

I am lucky to be able to make doctor appointments or lunch with my friend once every three months.  Every activity is scheduled around milking my cows or caring for the animals.  I have a hard time even making it to special occasions with my family.

” I want to live your life”.

One instance of that being spoken inspired me to write this post because despite my advise and cautionary tales, someone jumped in and nearly went under.

She called me several months ago wanting to ask about keeping a dairy cow.  Just one.

I advised her how to set up her parlor for hand milking, how to set up her yards so they would be convenient and safe, how to build a run-in shed barn, etc..

I told her all the things I touch on here–the worst of the worst.  Still she persisted in her quest for a cow.

I told her what to look for in a family cow and since I had none to offer, I helped her pick one. I went to her homestead and taught her how to prep and milk her cow when the cow arrived.  I made myself available to answer all her questions.

Three months later I got a call from her.  She opened with , ” I think I made a mistake.” and the conversation , and her cow’s future, went downhill from there.

She thought I was exaggerating all the work and expense and worry.  No, seriously, that’s what she told me.  She thought I was exaggerating. Sigh.

If she believed half of what I told her is true it should have been enough to spark her brain into realizing she shouldn’t have a cow with her lifestyle that she was unwilling to change.

The picture is never the whole story.

That is what I leave you with.  You cannot see the work, the strain, the worry, the suffering, the efforts, the expenses, the exhaustion, the physical stress…not in a picture.

Enjoy the photos of happy cows and the posts of contented farmers, but understand that the cows are happy because of proper care and attention and the farmer is tired but satisfied with her choices.  If you are considering those choices for yourself, ask the hard questions and for the love of cows, believe the answers you get.

 

 

 

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Bacon Cheeseburger Soup

Yes ! This is my own recipe !

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This recipe can be played with in so many ways to suit taste.

What you need:

2 lbs ground beef

1 lb. bacon

1 C cubed bacon or fatback

1 yellow pepper

1 red pepper

1 green bell pepper

5 cloves garlic

2 yellow onions

4 C beef broth or stock

3 carrots or 1 can carrots

1 can pureed tomatoes or 4 pureed whole tomatoes

1 can of diced tomatoes or 2 whole tomatoes, diced

2 C cheese of choice ( I like white sharp cheddar )

Pickled jalapenos ( very optional )

salt

pepper

parsley


Chop your peppers and onions.  Peel and roughly chop your garlic.

In large skillet, add your ground beef , your cubed bacon or fat back, peppers, onions & garlic.  Brown.

While  your ground beef mixture is browning, put your bacon in oven at 375 on a baking sheet.  This makes the bacon more crumbly and crisp for sitting atop soup.

when your beef / bacon mixture is brown, drain off as much fat as possible. I set a metal colander over a large ceramic kitchen bowl and pour the mix in to drain.

In large soup pot add your beef/ bacon /veggie mix with broth/stock, all tomato ingredients , carrots & salt/pepper/parsley to taste. Bring to boil, stirring regularly.  reduce heat and simmer at least 30 minutes or as long as you like.

This is a particularly nice recipe for a crock pot, but the meat mixture should be browned first.

Grate your cheese and garnish with your cheese and crumbled , oven baked bacon.

If you like some spice or kick , pickled jalapenos are AWESOME as a garnish on this soup!

ENJOY !

Raw Milk Cottage Cheese

Easy peasy to make, but does require some minding.

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Haven’t tried this with pasteurized milk, so if you don’t have access to raw milk you can let me know if it works as well with pasteurized.  Since there is a maturing process and some heating involved, I don’t feel the need to pasteurize.

1/2 gal. raw milk

Skim cream as much as possible: reserve cream in fridge

Place skimmed milk in glass bowl and cover with cheesecloth.

Keep on a counter in an area with stable temperature.

Let it sit 24-48 hours until it is firm and gel – like.  ( no whey should be risen to the top.  The goal is to set at this stage until JUST BEFORE the milk separates.  That may take some sight skills that develop over time.)

Skim off any remaining cream. ( it will rise ) : a baster works well for this purpose and you should retain this cream for sour cream. YUMMY !

Dump The solid milk in a large pot and heat on LOW for between 5 – 10 minutes until separation of curds and whey occurs.

Line a strainer with butter muslin or a lint free white kitchen towel. Place lined strainer over large bowl to catch whey.  Drain for 1-3 hours ( house temp affects drain time)

Remove and crumble curds into fresh bowl.  Add salt to taste.  Pour on cream reserved at beginning of process or equivalent amount of cream and combine.

ENJOY !

 

 

My ‘ Queers ‘

A good friend of mine was taking a flight, in first class, with her spouse, when a large, angry man sidled up the aisle and deliberately stepped all over her feet.  When asked to move by the flight attendant , he stood down hard on her foot a while.  When he took his chair, he reclined so far back, my friend could barely turn sideways in her own seat.  Again, he was asked by the flight attendant to move forward just a little.  Again, he refused to comply.  As they were ready to land after this unnecessarily difficult flight, he continued to be rude and obnoxious and finally announced, ” I don’t like queers.”  He was informed by the attendant that the police would be waiting for him at the gate, as he had literally assaulted my friend physically and intentionally.

I am livid.  I am sad.  I literally cried when I heard of her treatment and I cry as I write this both as her friend, knowing her pain and offense and as a mother of a child on the autism spectrum , knowing how it feels to be treated with disrespect for things that shouldn’t matter to anyone else.

This is why I am a non-social recluse.  This is why I have clinical moderate agoraphobia.

People suck.

I know first hand what it is to be ‘different’ and to mother a child who is ‘ different’.

I know what comes with that the moment you engage with the general public: rude comments, interjections of unsolicited opinions, ignorance, mean-spirited jeers and remarks, dismissal and exclusion…

I know what it is like to just be living your life without harm to anyone and have someone lambaste you for things that do not affect them at all and  which you are fully aware will stand out in a crowd.  You get tired of wearing masks.  You get tired of pretending you don’t notice the glares and snickering.  You get tired of people.

I know what it is like to try to blend in the crowd and hope you go unnoticed, snuffing your own flame for fear and insecurity and want of peace.

 

Webster’s dictionary has several definitions for the word ‘ queer ‘

Definition of queer

:worthlesscounterfeit 

  • queer money
a differing in some odd way from what is usual or normal
   (2) :mildly insane :touched
c absorbed or interested to an extreme or unreasonable degree :obsessed
d : often disparaging + offensive
3 a (1):sexually attracted to members of the same sex :homosexualgay 
       (2):of, relating to, or used by homosexuals :gay 
4not quite well
Let’s examine them , shall we?
    I have been told that I, myself, am unconventional, eccentric, absorbed or obsessed ( with my cows and dogs ) etc…
I have a bassinet for my little dogs.  I hug my cows.
I also have literal OCD, ADHD and agoraphobia.  Therefore, I am ‘ not quite well’.
I am queer.
My son is on the autism spectrum.  He is very open to talking and sharing about how differently he thinks and acts than ‘ normal ‘ kids his age.  Is he ‘queer’? yep.
I have a friend who cannot stand to have her clothes touch her neck.  Another who hates to be wet–at all.  Drives her nuts.
Are they queer? sure.
How about those who stutter? Those who rescue animals at their own expense? Those who create art ? Those who give up their social lives to heal others? Queer ? Yes.
What about people with Tourettes, bi-polar disorder, skin disorders?
What about visionaries, writers, philosophers, believers?
How about homesteaders, back to basic yearners, off the grid folks?
Homeschoolers, attachment parents, breast feeding moms?
All queer by definition.
I am different.
 There are many aspects of my construct and character that the world at large deems weird, strange, odd …but no one, not one single time, has ever physically assaulted me for them. I cannot imagine having to live in that world.
My friends were , as they always do, minding their own business, on the way to a professional endeavor in another state, two lovely in all ways successful women and because this jerk feels his flesh is more valuable somehow than theirs, they were accosted multiple times in ways that he hoped would humiliate, degrade and crush them.
With malice in his black heart, he repeatedly attempted to dehumanize my friends while only succeeding in dehumanizing himself.
I love my queers.  All of you.  The weirdos,  the artists, the back to the earth gals and guys, the gay couples and singles, the farmers, the autistic funny guys and the brilliant girls on the spectrum too.  My OCD , ADHD, animal saving, animal hugging, antisocial, outspoken, socially driven , divine believing, spiritual friends.
I love my queers.  I am honored to call you my queers..

Sweetie.

I feel the need to share about Sweetie.

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Sweetie was my first dairy cow, the first cow I ever milked on this farm.
I lost Sweetie a few years ago to worst case scenario milk fever despite heroic efforts from our friends, family, our vet and the community of docs he consulted with and treatments that added up to a sum that would have paid most folks bills in their entirety for a month.
It damaged my spirit to lose her ways that I have never gotten over. I feel and likely am partially responsible for her inability to recover, having made what I thought were simple and harmless changes to her mineral regimen. It was the first time I did not ask a mentor / vet before doing something unfamiliar. It will be the last.

I have lost many animals over the course of my life, but few have affected me the way losing Sweetie has.  I still get choked up over her.  I still see her around the farm occasionally.  I envision her under her favorite shade tree, standing in the parlor door before sunrise, hovering over the picnic table where she would beg to share everyone’s lunch.  She still exists here. She still exists in my heart.  Hot tears run as I write this and my throat is clogged with regret, sorrow and self-blame.  I miss that goofy cow like one misses any long time companion, human or animal.sweetie4

I remember everything about the day we brought her home.  We milked her at her former farm and drove all night to be sure to be home before she had to be milked again. She was a very heavy producer.  I brought the machine right onto the trailer when we arrived at our farm and milked her standing there so as not to stress her by forcing her into an unfamiliar stanchion the moment she arrived.

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Sweetie was and remains the mildest tempered cow I have ever met. She cooperated like no other, obliging what I asked of her regardless to whether it was a new or scary ( to cows ) situation.  She literally walked by my side as I did chores, occasionally rubbing her head against me or licking my hand. I jokingly called her ‘ cow dog’ .  Even when she fell ill, she was an attentive, communicative and patient girl.

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I had the opportunity several months back to purchase Sweetie’s first calf, a cow called  ‘ Vida ‘.  How Vida came to me is no less than a miracle in my world.  You can read about that in my blog post ‘ Intertwined ‘.   Although I have Sweetie’s second heifer , Bibs, born here and bottle fed by me ,  Vida is number one. Vida is special to me for obvious reasons.  She lacks her mother’s easy going temperament and although she lets me love on her and pet her, she is not anything near the pet Sweetie was, yet she queen of this farm.  I honor her mother’s memory by spoiling and catering to her.

 

Vida is due to calve soon.  I always get excited about an upcoming calf, but never like I have been with this one.  There is something awe inspiring about watching any Jersey cow give birth and attend their baby. They are such awesome mothers and form a true , deep bond with their offspring.  It is an admirable and touching thing to watch a cow nurture their young, mooing in that low , nearly inaudible language that is reserved only for her baby.

Sweetie & Bibs

 

As Vida’s calving approaches, I see more of sweetie in her every day and it both touches my heart and breaks it.

I cannot wait to meet Sweetie’s grandcalf.  I can’t wait to hug and kiss it’s little face.

I can’t wait to tell it stories about it’s grandmother as it waits for it’s mama to leave the milk parlor.

Yes, I realize it will not understand and that it’s more for my benefit than the calf’s, but I will know–Sweetie will know–and I cannot wait.

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Training a family cow the gentler way

 

In respect to my fellow FarmHers I am compelled to preface this article by making a statement: I do things the way I do things based on my own research, beliefs and spiritual journey.  For me, this is the right way–for you, it may not be.  I respect that.  If your way works for you and your animal, stick with it, sister ! You will get no argument from me.  The sharing I do here is to be helpful only.  I  share in this blog my mistakes and triumphs in hopes that it will benefit others in some way.  If you take something from my sharing, it is a blessing to me.  If you can share something that may enrich my knowledge in some way or improve my practices, please do.  The following article is a sharing of my own ‘ hows ‘ & ‘ whys’  of  training to the stanchion.  Nothing more.  Nothing less.                                            

I started out with farming with one key mandate in mind; if I could not attend the global well being of my livestock I would be done with keeping animals.  I believe with conviction in the necessity of acknowledging the psychological and spiritual needs of an animal as well as their nutritional and housing requirements .

All creatures capable of thought have ‘ feelings ‘.  Period.  All beings capable of thought have preferences, desires, individual personalities and psychological histories that make them ‘ who ‘ they are.  There have been extensive controlled studies on the matter by respected entities.  It has been found that across the plane of the animal kingdom, there exists a network of behaviors akin to human behaviors; nuances of emotions and cognition,  patterns and paradigms , social norms and rules exist in the animal world that mimic our own.  If you doubt that, I challenge you to park yourself among a herd of cattle and just observe.

Cows are skittish by nature.  Let’s face it, although they are huge, potentially dangerous creatures, they really have few defenses when it comes down to it. They are subject to predators and are generally at our command.   They are afforded few choices in life under normal circumstances and are subject to the will of their keeper.  They know this.  They are not dumb animals.

Cows are also creatures of habit.  They thrive on strict routine and will line up in the same basic order for milking times and feed times.  They choose and flock to their favorite shade and resting areas.  They have individual preferences for troughs , barns and hay rings.  They find comfort in doing things the same way on the same schedules every single day.  When there is upset to their routines or changes in their environment, it is very stressful and frightening to them.

Cows do not like confinement, spaces they cannot turn around in or loud , sudden noises.  They do not like walking into dimly lit  spaces or through small doors.  Seeing things that are out of place such as even a bucket they do not recognize makes them nervous.

Those simple facts being stated, imagine if you will that you are a cow who has just given birth.  Your farmer now asks you to leave your newborn baby and come into a room you have never been in, through what is basically a human sized opening and is not very well lit.  Inside this room you have heard strange, loud noises if there is a milk machine.  You have no idea what is about to happen to you.  You resist.  Of course.

Your farmer forces you in and locks your head in a strange contraption that you cannot escape from.  You can’t free yourself or back out.Then, she tries to take your baby’s nutrition from your udder . Your baby needs that ! You resist some more.  You are being restrained and handled in the most personal and in your view, inappropriate ways. You are fighting against things you have never experienced in a strange room , locked in by your head and you’re scared and you don’t know even where your baby is or what is happening to him/her.  You’re probably a little angry too !

I have seen ” trained ” dairy cows  that are absolutely horrified of the stanchion and must be manhandled to get them in , then restrained with all manner of devices just to get them milked; this is not psychologically, nor physically healthy.  Temple Grandin suggests that one can tell how stressed a cow is by the number and tone of her moos; this is true.  If a cow is constantly mooing in a low distressed way or hollering and thrashing in the stanchion, on my farm that means that training is going badly and the session ends.  I instantly release her.  There is a vast difference between a cow working out in her mind what is going on with normal resistance and thrashing about in obvious duress– Normal stress is not long-lasting and/or violent; once the cow realizes no harm will come to her, she settles and you can move forward.  My rule of thumb is that there must be an obvious progression of acceptance–a minimizing of the displays of distress, if you will, for me to continue.

A commonly recommended resource for folks starting out with dairy cows is  ‘ Keeping a Family Cow ‘ by Joann S. Grohman .  It has become the Bible for homesteaders and small farmers starting a dairy herd or just having a single family milk cow of their own.   While it is an invaluable resource and packed full of incredibly useful information and tips, I find many of her opinions in direct contradiction with my personal experiences and observations: ie..” Cows don’t like dogs.  They are natural enemies ” ( Chapter 3: A calm environment) I have multiple photos of my dogs lying in service of my cows as they give birth, protecting both the dam and her arriving calf, licking the face of the dam completely accepted as part of the process.  My cows will sleep next to my dogs and my dogs often sit in the parlor with me. I call my three Great Pyrenees ‘ The Cowboys ‘.  Again, it goes to personality, training and preference–of the cow, the dog, the farmer.  A well trained farm dog is a part of the herd, accepted by the cows.  If you have a cow who comes from a farm where dogs were allowed to nip at her heels in the process of herding, of course she will dislike your dogs.  I have one such cow here.  After ten months of my redirection and training of her ,  she no longer charges my Pyrenees, although she still regards them with suspicion and probably always will.  When one says ” cows don’t like dogs ” , it is akin to saying cats don’t like dogs; it may be the rule of the wild and commonplace on farms where dogs are permitted and/or encouraged to bite at the heels of a cow, but on a gentle & humane farm, a bovine is not wild, nor is a properly trained and respectful dog.

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I disagree with some of Ms. Grohman’s  methods when it comes to training as well.  She openly admits to and endorses scolding a cow who {misbehaves} in the stanchion by yelling at the cow and manhandling her: ” grab her leg and firmly pull it down ” ” I yell at her ” , which seems in direct contradiction to her  stated practices elsewhere in her book of getting into the right mindset by ‘thinking positively’.  She also recommends such  things in situations with cows that  kick the bucket while in training as lashing their legs by going under the belly in front of the udder with ropes , reminding the reader that this is dangerous and the ropes must be loosened frequently so as not to damage the udder or disrupt circulation  and tying the cow’s tail to her leg to prevent her smacking you with it if she insists on doing so ( Both found in Chapter 3: ‘Milking your Cow’ in the section devoted to ‘ kicking ‘ ).  I disagree with the practice or necessity of any of these suggestions.

To the matter of kicking, a kick stop device will prevent that without the great risk or stress of yelling, grabbing, tying or pulling on your cow.  Ms. Grohman even recommends them and illustrates them.  I cannot fathom why she chose to include the dangerous and stressful options.  To the matter of tail flicking, that usually passes quickly:it’s part of the training process for the cow to use whatever means she has at her disposal to air her disapproval, although a bothersome fly now and again may get you an unexpected smack across the face.  It happens.  I wouldn’t tie my girl’s tail on the off chance it might.  As to yelling at my cows–I don’t do it, just like I don’t yell at my grandson.  It isn’t necessary to yell to correct a child and it isn’t necessary to yell to correct an animal who is restrained in a stanchion.  If a cow is barreling at me full speed and about to mow over me– heck yeah ! I yell !

I  introduce my bovines in training to the parlor PRIOR to their calving.   I simply spend a couple of minutes each time I am in the parlor inviting them in for a small scoop of grain and getting them used to the goings on.  Seriously, a couple of minutes.  It doesn’t have to be every time either.  I just make an effort when I can.  If they choose not to come in for the grain, I simply shut the door and leave.  Eventually, they come in.

Also, realize as you go through these steps, sometimes you will accomplish only one a day with a certain cow, while with others you will fly through several in the same day and then stall on one.  Each cow is different as is each human.  I do not pull my calves from their dams, so this affords me the time to work with them at leisure and not be hurried through training post calving either.  Despite what is commonly believed, it is not necessary to fully milk out your first freshener heifer in the first 24 hours.  She will not get mastitis and it will not make her less of a producer to introduce her to milking more patiently if she retains her calf.  It can take a couple of days for her milk to even come in: In fact, licensed dairies are required to withhold milk from a freshening cow for 3-4 days to ensure it is free of colostrum residues.  Sidenote: if your heifer / cow is suffering from edema or is a very heavy producer it is in her best interest for the sake of her health and comfort to milk her out as quickly as possible.  –If she is familiar with the stanchion and processes, this will be an easier task to accomplish within the first 24 hours even if you have never milked a cow before.

There have  been extensive scientific studies done at reputable university programs which have proven that if a cow is under stress or discomfort ( physical or psychological) , her productivity in the parlor suffers.  Her global comfort during the milking process from day one is in everyone’s best interest.

By the time my expectant heifers  have calved, I have gone through all of the possible steps to familiarize them with the parlor ; Coming in has become second nature to them.  I accomplish this in under 5 minutes a day within a couple of weeks  and as I stated, it doesn’t have to be every day.  Bringing a first freshener heifer in ‘ cold ‘is common practice and I did  it myself when I first started with dairy cows , but as I grew as a keeper of cows I learned and as I learned, I changed my way of thinking.  I no longer practice ‘ cold training ‘ as a result of the things I have witnessed and feel unnecessary, unkind and unproductive.

 I used to ascribe to the theory that since  training without introduction was ‘ The Norm ‘ it was the best way and that since my bovines hung around and saw what was going on they would be somewhat familiar anyhow–then I realized, no matter how many times I watch a new, intimidating experience , it isn’t until I actually try it and learn the process that I become comfortable and I don’t usually want to be immersed in it all at once  but introduced with respect to my ability to handle things.  I asked questions of professionals in every aspect of the field and I read every reputable resource and study I could find and  developed a kinder, more gentle , respectful system that  works for me and my cows.  Every single time.

This method will work regardless to how you intend to milk your cow: by hand or machine, in stanchion or freestanding with halter.


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 Transitioning an older cow from ‘ Nurse cow ‘ to ‘ Family cow ‘


Ella is a 5 year old Jersey who has never been milked.  She was sold to me being described as a cow who had always delivered ” on pasture “.  She was not a pet.  Ella was a well kept girl who had just not been acquainted at all with the life of a dairy cow.
My first step in such a case is just to acquaint them to the parlor. I feel that especially with an older girl it takes a little preparation and patience to transition her from being a  ‘ nurse cow ‘ to a ‘ milk cow ‘ and maintain the trust and stress  free environment I demand.
I introduce slowly, step by step and begin the morning after they arrive.


Step 1 : Just get her to come in on her own for some grain.
So far, she’s done a lot of peeking. lol

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Eventually, the draw and promise of the grain will prove too much and she will come in.

She came in that afternoon–the afternoon following her arrival.  I only tried twice.

 


Step 2: Just let her enjoy her grain, undisturbed, head gate open or untied if you are using a halter.

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At this point, I call it a successful day even if it’s morning.  I never want to overload them and have to start from square one because i freaked them out and she went back to refusing to come in.


Step 3 : close the head catch ior secure your lead if using halter. If the cow is calm, move to step 4.
Ella was not calm. She needed to work through the idea of the head catch. It is really important that they work through and relax completely ( ie..eating grain again ) before releasing them and that this is ALL they are dealing with at this stage. If you release a cow while she is struggling, it is tantamount to telling her that if she fights, she will break free. Never release a cow while she is struggling unless it is a matter of her safety.

I like them to realize that being restrained does not equate to something unpleasant in the parlor. Restraint usually equals some form of care or vetting a cow is not fond of. My opinion is that a 5 year old cow who has never experienced milking before is going to have a much harder time psychologically absorbing what is going on and will have a higher level of stress and/or fear than a heifer who has not had as many life experiences. That is why I prefer to acquaint them slowly and with respect to their feelings at this age.

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Step 4: Handle her while in head catch or while secured with lead.

Many nurse cows have been on pasture and are not accustomed to being handled.  The simple act of handling a cow extensively such as is required with milking is very stressful and alien to them.  I start by scratching her head and face gently as she is eating.  If she pulls away,  do the same and reintroduce the petting when she turns her attention back to the grain. Touching her face accomplishes two things: it introduces her to your touch in a direct manner and it gets her used to being in close proximity with you.

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As she assimilates to accepting that touch, I move to her back and run my hand lightly along her spine and ribs, talking gentle reassurances as I do.  Again, pulling away if she shows signs of stress.  It may take two or three sessions of this to get to the point where you can handle her without complaint or fear.

*DO NOT stand directly behind or in the line of side swipes from her hooves as you handle her if she is not accustomed to touch as you move through this process*

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I DO NOT touch her udder at this point.  That may earn you a swift and dangerous kick at this early stage.   It is my belief through research and observation that the udder is the most personal place one can touch a cow after she calves.  I reserve that touch for when I actually intend to milk her.  That’s an ALL IN touch in the bovine world.

Lastly in introducing touch, I open the stanchion or release her tie off once she comfortable with my petting before she finishes her grain and continue to run my hand across her back.  There will be times in milking your new cow that you must handle them without restraint.  I don’t want them to think the only time they will be touched is when they have no choice in the matter.  Not all dairy cows are ‘ pets ‘, even on the smallest of farms.  I also make it a point to pat her backside and give her a ” good girl ” each time she leaves the parlor.  For safety’s sake, always walk out to one side or the other of your cow, never directly behind her.

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Step 5 : introducing any further restraint or kick you intend to employ.

( I no longer use restraints unless I have a freaky natured or dangerous tempered  cow on my hands, but did with every first milker when I was new to training to keep myself safe until I was comfortable with the process. )

Always secure your cow first.

If you intend to use a kick stop bar or additional restraint to the head catch, this is the time to employ that introduction.  Do your measurements with the bar using the holes on the outsides of the apparatus prior to putting on the cow after she is in the stanchion by holding beside her.

Most have push button adjusting holes on the top and bottom to fit perfectly under the skin around the  cow’s lower flank and over the cow’s spine at the hip area.   The bar should fit snug enough not to slide much and fall off, but not too tightly to be uncomfortable or pinch and pull.  I have made the mistake of having it too loose and had it fall on my head as I put on the milking head of the machine.  It’s heavy metal.  It hurts if it hits your head and leaves a goose egg.

There are two basic types of anti -kick devices on the general market: one -sided and two-sided.  Both are pictured below.  Choose the one that best suits your needs.  I find that the two-sided devices do not fit the smaller stature cows well as they are designed with larger bovines in mind and although they are adjustable, the arch does not sit well on the small stature or miniature Jerseys.  The ‘ pinscher ‘ type design sits better on standard sized cows, but is hard to manipulate with my small hands and arthritis.  I use the single sided, adjustable kick stop.

 

The two most important things to remember when using an anti-kick device of any kind on your cow are as follows:  ALWAYS  remove the device   BEFORE you release the cow .  Serious and often irreversible injury occurs when a cow is set out with the device in place and begins to jump around and flail when she cannot properly move around in it. Secondly, always adjust the kick-stop device properly to your cow for safety and comfort–yours and the cow’s. If too tight, it can disrupt circulation to the cow’s leg or udder, if too loose it can create a situation where you or the cow may become injured by the tool.

 

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So, for this step, just get your girl secured and employ the kick devise. Handle her gently and talk to her.  Let her eat her grain.  Remove the kick device first, then release her.

I leave it at that for the day but usually try to do it both milking times; getting accustomed to restraints is a lot to bear.


Step 6 : The sounds of the parlor

The next time I bring her in I have the milk machine ready to turn on whether i am milking anyone else of not.  It is sitting in it’s proper place so she sees it when she comes to the entry way.   Usually, this will be enough to stop a cow in her tracks.  It is a new object in her sight.  She may back away, approach it with caution and sniff it before deciding to come in.  She may even decide not to come in.  Sometimes seeing a new thing in the parlor is a deal breaker even for a seasoned cow.  Be patient.  If necessary, show her a scoop of grain and start coaxing her in again just like in the beginning.  If she doesn’t come in the time you need her to, close the door and come back later just like before.  She’ll come eventually.

If you don’t use a machine, put out your stool, your wagon, whatever you use in your milking chores that would normally be in or near your parlor in it’s designated place.  While she is in the stanchion move about the parlor making the usual movements and noise you would create while going through the motions.  It is not necessary to exaggerate these noises or movements, to acquaint her with the normal activities of milking time is the goal.

Once in the stanchion, go through your necessary steps to prepare her and make her ( and you ) comfortable and safe because this time you will turn on the machine.  The noise of the machine sends some cows into convulsions.  Some don’t care at all.  If she doesn’t seem to mind the machine, go to step 6.

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Ella apprehensively enters the parlor past the machine.  Note her stance: head down, wary, unsure.  There is something new in the parlor.

Step 6 : Hand milk your cow

I recommend hand milking your older  cow the first time whether you intend to use a machine or not.  This helps her transition to a family dairy cow more easily by introducing the idea of being milked from a gentler perspective.

If you are using restraints, make sure they are secure.  Make certain your cow has sufficient grain in her stanchion.  Get your bucket and udder supplies.

Gently run your hand down the cow’s side to the udder and let her know your intention.  Clean the udder.  Begin to hand milk your cow.  Do this while being as quiet and subtle with your movements as possible , praising her if you like.    The idea is not to fully milk her out this first go , but to get her used to having her udder manipulated and hearing the machine at the same time.   If she tolerates the milking process well, go ahead and milk her out.  If she is thoroughly resistant, I milk her with frequent breaks as needed for her safety and mine for a short period of time. After I have milked the first time if she’s calm ( always wait for her to settle before moving on)  I remove all restraints, turn the machine off , pet her a bit , then release her, allowing her to finish her grain unrestrained and in peace.

*If she takes to being milked by hand well, the next time you milk introduce your machine if you intend to use one–even if it is the same day; If you hand milk in the morning and normally do an afternoon milking, use the machine in the afternoon.*

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I always walk out with my cow until they know the routine, even though the parlor has a corral that  leads right out to the cow yards. It  reinforces the idea that I am leading the show and that I have their best interests at heart and will always return them to the herd.

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Step 7: Use your machine or fully milk your cow.

Go through your necessary steps  to secure and prepare your cow for milking.

Once ready, turn on your machine or get to milking.  I find that doing this without hesitation or explanation at this stage is the best way.  She has already been introduced to all the different aspects and is familiar with all of the components of being milked and every sight and sound and sensation that it entails aside from having a machine put on her.  If you’re using a machine , the only way to introduce that milking head is to go ‘ all in ‘ and put it on her.  She likely won’t appreciate it, but my experience has been that the comfort you have provided by preparing her mind for all that is going on aside from that one experience will temper her reaction and recovery time.  With this particular girl, the mental preparation I afforded her through this gentle introduction combined with her accepting nature made it a very stress free procedure for both of us.  These are actual photos of her first machine application; no kick – stop device , no drama.  This was only four days into her training and the fifth day of her residency here.  ‘ Nurse cow ‘ to fully trained and contented ‘ dairy cow ‘ in about 80 minutes total time invested:  10 minutes or less twice daily for 4 days.



 


The differences in training an older cow and a first freshener for me would be subtle:

  •  I would introduce the first freshener along and along to the parlor through the last stages of her pregnancy when the opportunity presented itself–ie…she was near the parlor door, or I had the time to coax her in.
  • I would go through as many of the steps as possible while she ate a tiny bit of grain each time she progressed through one, moving to the next: including working my way up to handling her udder and eventually even cleaning it.
  • I would milk her out completely  her first post-calving time by hand and even possibly, if she fully accepted the hand milking, switch to machine during the first milking.

A first freshener under my training will have a lot of time in the parlor under her belt  already in small intervals and would, therefore, fly through most of the latter steps of her post-calving training fairly quickly without much incident.  There are exceptions to the rule; I had one spoiled rotten heifer who was very comfortable in the parlor / stanchion and with being handled but  was determined to take my head off no matter what when it came to having the machine applied.  Her training to the machine ended up taking a couple of weeks although she was 100% accepting of hand-milking.  I’ve seen that happen with  ‘ cold trained ‘ heifers as well  and with much more frequency.  Indeed, it is only logical that a cow  unfamiliar with the goings-on is more likely to have extended periods of resistance and stress, which has led me to devote myself to the gentler way of training.   It is to the individual bovine how the training will progress, but if one removes most of the fear and stress factors from the cow herself, it stands to reason that it will only go more smoothly for both farmer and cow.


It is important to realize that there will almost always be some degree of resistance as your cow adjusts to the idea of each step.  Learning the difference between normal resistance and high level fear / stress is key. Below are a few examples.

* When my cow is working through the normal indicators of adjustment to a process, I step back and let her deal with it as long as she progresses towards settling down *

Normal signs of resistance in the parlor:

  • shifting weight in stanchion
  • pulling back with moderate force and twisting head against head latch in stanchion
  • kicking at hand with back hooves when touching udder
  • swishing tail
  • occasional low-tone moos
  • looking around / trying to turn around
  • moving head up and down in head catch / against tie-off
  • smacking you with tail
  • stomping feet
  • temporary bucking  ( brief and occasional )
  • twisting head in stanchion

Abnormal signs of stress:

  • loud continual mooing
  • coughing or strangling sounds
  •  drooling / foaming
  • sustained head thrashing against head latch ( lasts for more than 10 seconds is a good rule of thumb)
  • trying to fall on floor
  • twisting her entire body in attempts to get free
  • ongoing bucking
  • lack of focus ( wild eyed, horrified look )
  • quivering and shaking

When I see any of these indications that the session has gone bad, I end the training.  NEVER  attempt to release a cow that is in a panic state !!! Always wait for her to settle  !! Attempting to release her while she is in such a state could result in serious injuries to yourself or your cow !!!  ( the only time I release a bovine in a dangerous state of mind is when she is in mortal danger: she has become entrapped or such and is at risk of serious injury.)  

Releasing her in a panicked state of mind also ends your session on a poor note.  You want her to know that when she is calm and  cooperative, she will be released and that her time in the parlor ended well.  Before resorting to releasing her, attempt to settle her by removing what set her off if possible.  Also offer her comfort in the form of assurances and a favorite treat.  Redirect her mind if possible.

 


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This former pasture girl began to wait for me at the parlor gate when she saw me coming the very week she started her training.  It took me only a few days  days to train this girl in a completely stress-free way.  She was sold to me as a cow who had always delivered on pasture and had not been handled.  She now views the parlor as a place of peace and comfort, where she will receive grain and relief from her heavy udder.  If training is done with patience,   it will be for your girls too.


Resources: ( I could not possibly list all of my resources for this model, but these are a solid few )

  • Understanding animal stress helps improve production efficiency (The Scientists tell me)  by Marilyn Brown
  • Keeping a family cow  by   Joann S. Grohman
  • Behavioral Principals of Livestock Handling by Temple Grandin
  • Animals Make us human by Temple Grandin
  • Temple Grandin : How the girl who loved cows embraced autism and changed the world by Sy Montgomery
  • Why and How to read a cow or bull : https://nature.berkeley.edu/ucce50/ag-labor/7article/article29.htm *( brief but good observation of bovine body language )*
  •  Using behaviour to assess animal welfare ( MS Dawkins 2004 )
  •  The Behaviour of Cattle by  J. L. Albright
  •  Principles of Psychology by Marc Breedlove

I am a FarmHer

I am a FarmHer.

I am not bothered by extremes : heat that sends a current  of sweat stinging your eyes and makes your clothes and hair stick to you while you work: icy cold that numbs your face and cuts through the best coveralls while you milk your cows at 5 a.m. : mud that is halfway to your knees and sucks your boots off, never to be seen again.

I am a FarmHer.

I deal with angry bulls, spitting llamas, aggressive hogs , defensive geese and all manner of attitude from animals that could maim or maul me without much effort..and I am kind to them and giving and loving and receptive–the balance between ‘safe’ & ‘detached ‘ a spiritual struggle.

I am a FarmHer.

I have awaken at 3 a.m. to milk 7 cows before taking my toddler grandson for 24 hours, three times per week; homeschooled my own son, done the chores & fed the livestock on two separate pieces of land, kept house and cooked dinner and tended the children–alone, my husband traveling a lot.

I am a FarmHer.

I  walk into the darkness of the woods alone when the dogs tell me there is trouble.  I do not fear shadows or sounds I do not recognize–I fear what those unknowns may bring to my farm.

I am a FarmHer.

I do what is best for my livestock even when it hurts.  I make sacrifices of my time and myself even when I am broken and my aches are bone deep.  I ignore illness and pain and weariness.  I press on for them and push my own feelings aside for their sake.

I am a FarmHer.

I live a cycle of balancing farm & family, livestock chores and home chores.

I am a FarmHer.

I live in gratitude for what I have and curse what I cannot control; a constant contradiction.

I am a FarmHer.

I am not bothered by manure, blood, urine  or bodily discharges of any kind.  The sights and smells of death and illness do not sink me;  I do what needs to be done and break down when it’s over.

I am a FarmHer.

I suffer losses and grief and frustrations with my chin up, my shoulders square and a list of tasks that need tending running through my head, but when it is quiet and still,  I cry.

I am a FarmHer.     If you are a FarmHer, my sister, I salute you.

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Intertwined

I saw a photo of a calf.

I had put a simple post on my personal and farm pages on FB stating that I was seeking a Jersey cow or heifer of breeding age and was messaged by a FB friend in Eastern Virginia whom I have never met in person, casually mentioning that she had a cow available which had come from a farm I am familiar with.   I explained the uncertainty of our interest,  asked for 24 hours  to speak with my husband about his travel schedule and  a Jersey cow on a local farm he does business with that I have been interested in for some time that may also be available and expressed my sincere appreciation for her offer.

She agreed and as it was late in the evening, provided me with a photo of her  cow’s most recent heifer calf , which she just happened to have on her phone at the time and which   was not available, having just sold.

I saw a photo of a calf.  A Jersey calf.  A Jersey heifer calf.  A percentage miniature Jersey heifer calf, her dam being a standard–her sire, a miniature.

I was struck instantly by the resemblance of this calf to my Bibs at that age.  Dumbfounded is a better word.   I could have been looking at a photo of Bibs two years earlier.  I know that seems odd, because it was a calf and it was a random photo of a calf, but I just couldn’t escape that perception.

The owner went on to answer my queries about the available dam of this calf .  How old she is, her health , her temperament, etc…all the while I was staring at the photo of the calf. Mesmerized by the calf that was already sold, not able to shake the feeling she looked just like Bibs.  I mentioned this feeling to the party I was chatting with.  She remarked that Bibs and this calf have similar genes coming from the same Virginia farm lines and it was not unlikely they be similar in appearance.  I replied something to the effect of, ” No,  they could be clones. I’ve seen a lot of calves from those lines and none of them have looked like Bibs.  ”

I verbally mourned missing the opportunity to buy the calf and continued on talking about her available mother.

After discussing her particulars, I asked for the available dam’s name  so I could look up photos of her.  I was unfamiliar with that particular cow even though I was familiar with the originating farm; her name did not ring a bell.   When I saw the registered name of that available cow’s dam  I  choked on a sob and pushed my chair back from my desk so hard and fast I almost fell over…

She is Sweetie’s first heifer calf born to these lines.  Bib’s sister.  Tia’s aunt.

Sweetie was the first dairy cow I ever owned.  She was the first cow I ever milked on my own farm.  She was the gentlest soul–my first bovine love.

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Those of you who know me understand what finding this cow means to me and how I will never be able to find adequate words to explain it to those  who do not.   I never got over losing Sweetie and I never forgave myself for my part in her inability to recover from the worst case scenario milk fever that took her from me despite heroic efforts from our vet and a team of people working around the clock for days.  It is the one time I didn’t ask questions before making a change regarding my Jerseys and I will regret it for the rest of my life.  Sweetie was my favorite cow.  She was a pet.  She was a friend.

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I mourned Sweetie’s loss so deeply and felt such profound guilt it ate at my spirit.    Her absence on this farm is a fixture and often painful entity; hiding around certain corners and pouncing, apparent beneath her favorite shade tree, hovering in the corners of the parlor–a glimpse, a memory, a sound and there she is.  I still miss her with all my heart.

I saw a photo of a calf and  I knew.       Somehow, I knew.

When I first saw the photo of Sweetie’s daughter sent to me after we agreed to purchase her,  I cried hot tears, covering my face with hands and telling my husband between shuddering sobs, ” I just didn’t expect her to look so much like Sweetie.”  I was , again,  floored by the resemblance.   Knocked back.  He asked if it would upset me having her here and I assured him it would not, that I was profoundly blessed and happy to have found her, I just wasn’t prepared to have her look so much like her mama.

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So many factors came together to make her good steward the person who would now sell her to me.  This person was not her original owner, nor her second owner…imagine that.

Imagine the complexity of movements it took for me to find the  first daughter of a cow I still mourn and regret and whose female offspring I cannot bear to part with.   Imagine that I would be FB friends with the person who ultimately ended up buying her and then needed to part with her–someone I have never met–who  offered her to me based on a casual post.  Imagine that this cow made her way to me through three owners in another state.  Coincidence?  I don’t believe in coincidence.  I believe as surely as I believe in God that all things happen for a reason; even the smallest of things.

Sweetie’s  daughter is coming home to be with Bibs and Tia and me–here–on this farm–where she will be cherished like her mama is in memory.  Here, where she is meant to be.

It amazes and comforts me how intertwined we are with all we love and hold dear.  More so than we humble humans can fathom.   I am blessed.  I am grateful.

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Sweetie & Bibs

 

 

 

 

 

Like a Bulldog

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I bought Reeses knowing she had recently had a full term stillbirth. Full disclosure about her circumstances was afforded me.   As she had borne a live calf before that, I wasn’t concerned.

Since then, she has had another late term stillbirth, a possible early term miscarriage–she cycled, was seen bred by our bull, then didn’t cycle, but when checked was not pregnant–and has not cycled regularly or been successfully bred in over a year since that.

As I write this, without looking at my calendar and her paperwork, I would guess that in all, Reeses has gone nearly three years of her not yet six year life without a successful breeding.

Let me be frank, if Reeses was not a pet; if she was not as smart and sweet and funny and wonderful as she is, there were options other than struggling with her infertility issues that I would have seized on without hesitation.  But she is all of those things.  She is all of those things and I love her.

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When the endless rains and flooding hit SC and we were forced to throw in the towel and part with our herds, I had the opportunity to sell Ree.  I withheld her; she had just had her second stillbirth, back to back and I was afraid that she would end up on someone’s plate. Please do understand that I know this is common protocol;most people won’t house or feed an unproductive cow–it just isn’t practical, and I have no issues with it under most circumstances and would normally do it myself, but this is Ree and again, I love her.

Her special needs and my worry for her and quest to find a resolve have now simply become part of my every day life.  Over the course of her challenges I have spent a great deal of time and money on every test and effort  my vet and I can come up with.  I have researched and asked questions of respected professionals in every field of agricultural science from Jersey breeder to animal nutritionist.   I have altered her diet, her minerals, adding this and changing that–ordering specialty mixtures of minerals and supplements from organic suppliers, testing, testing, testing…charting, charting, charting…Hoping, hoping, hoping…

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My grandmother once told me ” You’re like a junkyard bulldog; when you sink your teeth into something, there’s no letting go for you.”  She was right.  For me, failure is not an option and when it forces it’s way into my life, it crushes my spirit.  My tenacity is actually one of my greatest weaknesses.  There is no surrender in me when I care about my cause and sometimes, walking away is the best option.

The last of the tests have come in.  Reeses is, thankfully, free of ANY disease that would inhibit her ability to carry a calf.  By all accounts, her issue appears to be singularly hormonal.  Our course of action is to begin hormone therapy in the fall through our vet, who has also been running himself ragged for her; making calls to universities and colleagues and spending an awful lot of his free time pursuing an answer for us, because as he told me when he drew the last of her tests, ” I know she’s your baby. ”

Hormone therapy and AI is our last resort.  At first, I had mixed feelings about it.  The idea of injecting one of my animals with hormones was not appealing to me.  Then, I remembered my own struggles, 7 years of infertility, two miscarriages and treatments and tests of all kinds that ultimately resulted in my son and I found peace with it.  We need some help now and then.  If this is what it takes to get her back on track and make her happy, then so be it.

Cows have emotions.  Anyone who disbelieves that should stand in a field of cows with their calves for an hour and just observe without prejudice.  Ree longs for a calf.  You can see it in her eyes when she licks the calves of her herd mates.  You can hear it in her call on the rare occasion she does cycle; a mournful, pitiful call to the bull, unlike the others.   If there is a calf in her proximity, she is caring for it.  It is not purely a selfish pursuit for me to try here.  I want to see Ree nurse her own calf–for her.

I know how it feels to long for your own baby.  I know what it’s like to see every woman under the sun give birth and congratulate them while mourning your own losses.  I know the feeling of holding another’s infant and having your heart bleed.  I know what it’s like to mourn the babies that might have been.

What will I do if our last ditch plan fails ? I surely have no clue.  I’ll sink my teeth in that one as it comes.