The Slowcook at Spydog Farm The Slowcook at Spydog Farm

The Brief but Spectacular Life of Emily the Cow

December 16th, 2018 by Ed Bruske

The day before Thanksgiving the animals went out to graze but Emily, our Jersey cow, was nowhere to be seen among them. I found her lying on her side in the mud in front of the shelter in the main paddock. The vet who arrived a couple of hours later declared Emily hypothermic. With record cold temperatures bearing down, we dragged her behind the tractor into the shelter, covered her with hay and blankets, and began a three-week process of trying to nurse her back to health.

Alas, it was not to be. Emily never regained her appetite and was never upright again. Turns out, she had nursed her calves over the summer literally to the point of exhaustion. With bitter cold again approaching, yesterday we decided she had suffered enough. The local cow disposal unit carried her away.

Emily was a yearling when I bought her from a local dairy. She was in a head restraint with other young heifers inside a barn and had never been outdoors. We loaded her into the back of the pickup and set her loose to graze 12 acres of pasture. Over the ensuing five years, she gave us three calves and lots of milk that we turned into butter and cheese. She had one fetus die, and was always pretty small and skinny even for a Jersey. Yet Emily was tough and resilient even through record snow and cold spells.

Apparently what killed her was trying to nurse two calves simultaneously. One was a year old when the second was born. The older steer continued to nurse until we butchered him in October. I thought that offering Emily fresh pasture, sun and water, would be enough–nature would take care of the rest. But according to the vet, modern cows just aren’t designed to operate that way. They need supplemental feed. I felt really dumb. A bucket of grain each day would have been all Emil needed to survive two calves in fine fettle.

Bill Elsworth, the elderly farmer who sells us our non-GMO feed, was consoling. “It wasn’t dumb, Ed,” he said with his best bedside manner. “It was just inexperience.”

Of course we feel terrible that Emily had to suffer the consequences of our naiveté. We will sorely miss her. But the last calf was a female, a cross with a Red Angus bull. We named her Daisy. She is in line to become our next breeder cow. And what a great mom she is replacing.


Cold Weather Complications

February 12th, 2018 by Ed Bruske

I’m sure it’s karma. We gloated when we installed a new, top-of-the-line water hydrant next to the livestock paddock. No longer would we have worry about the water freezing in the middle of winter. And we were rewarded for digging up the old hydrant–until a few weeks ago. For no apparent reason, the new hydrant froze solid and we ate crow. We’re back to hauling water in five-gallon buckets from the kitchen sink. Many times a day do we haul.

That’s not our only winter woe. January thaws followed by arctic blasts left a skating rink where we normally water the animals. The water troughs were surrounded by ice, and I realized the sheep and cows weren’t drinking because they were afraid of falling. We keep the water liquid with electric heating elements that sit at the bottom of the troughs. Fortunately, there was just enough play in one extension cord to move one of the troughs to a safe spot. Of course the rest of the cord was frozen in a coil under the ice.

I had also prided myself two years ago on a decision to install an electric heater on my diesel tractor engine so I could get it started in the coldest temperatures. er Diesel engines don’t like cold. I think I had used this new piece of equipment twice before it, too, gave up the ghost a few weeks ago. The tractor is so handy at moving snow. Now I’m back to shoveling by hand.

All of which goes to say that this winter is a bit harder than we’d like because our gadgets have failed. The body aches. I often wonder how farmers coped before all these modern conveniences. Now I know: with difficulty.


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