Monday, April 16, 2012
Even an optimist has a hard day. We sent our beloved dairy cow to the butcher after many failed attempts to breed her and get her to freshen. This is dairy-speak for getting her to have a calf so that her lactation cycle would restart and we could once again have fresh milk. In the world of food production, even for the parts of the farm that are not commercial enterprises like our family cow, we need to be conscious that we don't spend more than we have to raise food, milk included. Keeping a cow can be expensive, especially if you are feeding her and going to the store to buy a carton of milk. Making the hard decision to move on is hard, heartbreaking in fact, but part of the cycle of our farm.
We woke early and loading our Lucy on the trailer, and said a tearful goodbye. After dropping her off (yes, at the butcher) we headed over the mountains to the Northeast Kingdom of Vermont to Fred Fletcher's farm in the hills of Jeffersonville. The drive was gorgeous, the rain was falling and the mountains were stunning.
Three across in the pick-up, we sang songs, told stories and wondered all the way there what it would be like, who we would meet and if our new cows would be as lovely as our old one.
Fred's place was nestled in the hills, down a long dirt road. The farm was beautiful. The herd was beautiful and the farmer, Fred, appeared to be one of the hardest working folk I've ever met. Milking at 10AM and 10PM, his days are long. His herd of Jersey and Ayrshire cows where a wonderful site. I think Fred measured in at about 5'2" but I think he was originally more like 5'6". He spoke of being tired. Tired of low milk prices, tired of the dying art of milking a small herd of cows. He had hoped some young farmer might come along and want to take over his business. He had hoped his children and grandchildren might want to farm. Instead, he is selling his herd. Probably, down the road, his equipment, and someday, to afford retirement, his land. This story is real. This is the fate of farms all throughout New England. HE can't find the most effective way to get the word out and bring someone into the fold. It's a good life, farming. But we all want to see our legacy, our life's work continue.
All the work to breed cows for a strong herd, manage pastures for premium grass and develop systems to produce a premium product, milk with a big cream line and for what.
When the cows and equipment are gone, Fred and his wife get tucked in to some other living arrangement, the old place might get lucky: a nice young family comes along and buys the property, renovates the house and barn and buys a few cows to milk.
Wouldn't it be better if someone would come along right now and transition the business, continue milking this fine herd, let Fred ease out of the barn at his pace, and maintain the legacy that has been created?
I found myself in tears as we drove away. The thought of all that work, all that potential, torn apart before it can be built up again.
Fred talked to us, introduced us to all the cows, shared his joy and sorrow and gave our new family cow a big hug on the way into the trailer.
(no, not either of these gorgeous ladies...) (the next one... "149")
149, the cow we bought (Fred said he stopped giving them names and went to numbers at about 100 cows) is now called Clementine. Her calf also came with us, but is yet unnamed. (It takes awhile in these parts to decide on things as important as a name.)
Fred was anxious to sell Clementine, or 149, as a family cow (or as he put it, "house-cow") because she is tiny. She was a runt to start out with but then she got loose with a bull a little too early. Far and away the scrawniest cow in the herd, Fred knew that she would bring the rest of the herd down in value were he to show some prospective buyer 149 alongside her kin. So she had to go, if not to us then likely the rendering truck or the butcher for low quality burger. It kind of reminds us of our hard decision to send Lucy off... and maybe "saving" Clementine-- and witnessing the priorities of a real dairy farmer, eases our minds about sending an infertile cow away.
And all of it-- this ending, and beginning, the difficulty and grace of transition keeps me thinking of Fred, and his business... can't some young landless farmer find him; make the connection? Someone who will help him
milk his cows, take over his business, offer him a gentle, dignified exit from all his hard work. Back at our place, the old Meserve Farm, now Broadturn Farm, our crew of interns greet us with the new addition. Fred raised a sweet cow, and though she's small, Clementine-149, still makes plenty of tasty milk and has the calmest temperament of any cow we've milked. Great for learning how to milk. Thanks Fred Fletcher for all you've done.
Blessings on the meal-
at 10:46 PM