Nine Years, Many Lessons

Nine Years, Many Lessons

Willow feeding EdmundA few months after moving to Anderson Valley, we got a call. The grass in our back field was too high. A neighbor had complained. The firemarshall was polite and adament. Something had to be done.

We could spend $400 on a couple of cows or over $1000 on a heavy duty ride-on mower. Money was tight. The answer was obvious.

Still, I was nervous. I’d never owned a cow before. I had worked with horses, which I still consider 1200 lbs of flight instinct ready to trample you if a bird tweets off key. What were we getting into?

“Torrey,” said Ester Espinoza, “don’t worry. They are like cats.” Her voice was warm, calming, a voice that settles the fluttering hearts of new kindergartners. And her father had two lovely cows he could sell us. We took the plunge and bought our first livestock, Rose and Bud.

That was nine years ago. In the intervening years we’ve added sheep, rabbits, pigs, and chickens to the mix. We’ve dealt with animal escapes, predetor attacks, and rogue critters, from the rooster who attacked my two year old to the rabbit mother who ate her own young. We’ve spent countless dollars and hours constructing fences and shelters, sometimes failing spectacularly, but always have learned from our efforts.

We recently spent a rainy Sunday catching and containing a cow that had a prolapsed uterus. It was hanging behind her like a bloody basketball. Once contained, we followed the vet’s advice and slowly pushed the uterus back into her. I don’t think Alan or I have ever felt so triumphant than the moment it returned to its rightful place.

The triumph didn’t last, however. The next morning she was in worse shape than before, and had to be put down. With a heavy heart, Alan spent the day preparing the meat for the butcher. Our friend Jay came and lent a hand, a generous gesture we will not soon forget.

The silver lining is the new calf, Edmund. Since his mother is gone we have to bottle feed him for the next three months. Covered in soft, red brown fur, he is healthy and spry. The cow mamas are usually so protective, we rarely get to touch the calves. It’s a treat to bring him his oversized bottle of warm milk replacement, look into his dark eyes and stroke his silky ears. The kids vie for the privilege of feeding him. Not sure how long their enthusiasm will last, but its nice to have the extra hands for now.

From finding the first egg from a new flock of chickens or watching a baby cow stand up for the first time, to discovering an unwell animal or coming upon the scene of a predator attack that looks staged for a Tarantino film, the emotional spectrum of raising farm animals swings from high to low. It teaches us to be philosophical. It teaches us to look at the long view. And above all, it teaches us to keep trying.


January 25th, 2012|Farm Stories|