Friday, May 28, 2010


"I'm calling to let you know that we're just leaving now so - CENTER LANE! - and we'll - NO, LEFT! - so it will probably be - WATCH OUT! - we won't be home until eight or nine."

This was the message Ed left for Alanna and Normandy on the farm answering machine Thursday afternoon. We had driven to New Hampshire that morning and were returning with cows in tow.

It all happened rather quickly. As Ed detailed in an early post, we have been wrestling with what breed of cow we should get. Before we bought the farm we read wonderful things about Mini Jerseys, but the reality did not come close to matching the hype. We looked at Kerry cows and fell in love, but they are scarce and don't produce much milk, though what they do is ideal for cheesemaking.

We next turned to Ayrshires, which are a common, productive breed, and which have milk with a similar protein and fat composition to Kerrys. To this end Alanna had been making phone calls to local breeders, and last week Ed and I went and met up with a farmer. He was nice, his farm was clean, and his cows were happily grazing out in the pasture. But they were really, really big. A few were as large as Holsteins. We want cows that weigh about a thousand pounds, and these averaged fourteen to sixteen hundred.

We had not pursued Kerrys in weeks or months, but on returning home from our disheartening Ayrshire visit we found a message that three were available for immediate sale - two very pregnant cows and one open heifer. The four of us discussed it a few times and slowly overcame our reservations. We agreed that the ideal cow for us did not yet exist, but that the Kerrys were the closest.

This raised the problem of how to get them. They were in New Hampshire, and we had no stock trailer. We called around trying to find one to borrow, and after exhausting almost all possibilities, Ed tracked one down. But then we found out that this trailer had no brakes. Driving up and down mountains with an extra three thousand pounds pushing on the rear hitch sounded harrowing, so we decided to build a crude room with a V shaped front onto our flatbed trailer. It took a frantic Wednesday afternoon and an even more frantic 5 to 7 a.m. Thursday, but at 7:30 we rolled out towing a contraption that looked like an amalgamation of a boat, a woodshed and a prison, but with wheels.

It was a long drive. The truck started making a weird noise ten minutes out, and despite the pointed front, the trailer was less than aerodynamic. The FM on the radio cut out about two hours in, leaving us at the mercy of Glen Beck and Thom Hartmann. We both started sweating every time we saw a cop, for though we had confidence in the quality of our construction, we weren't sure that it met the definition for a properly secured load. Worst of all, the bench seat in the truck is precisely calibrated to encourage a wholly unnatural curvature of the lower spine, which made it impossible for either of us to drive more than a few hours at a stretch. It was a bad trip.

But the cows looked great. We had been a little worried, because the man selling them estimated that one weighed fifteen hundred pounds. Luckily, he was very wrong. They stood just under four feet high, with a fine bone structure, and they were better muscled than most dairy breeds. They had small, well–formed udders, which a farmer friend yesterday described as “tidy” or “wicked tidy.” They were not too skittish, and it only took a few minutes to coax them into the trailer. We belted the rear gate shut, ate our lunch and set out.

The quote at the top of this post was about fifteen minutes into the trip, and it only got more stressful. It was six hours of praying that the cows were okay, that when they fell they wouldn't be hurt, that they wouldn't give birth, that they wouldn’t try to push through the walls we’d built, that the sheer stress wouldn't be too much. We both felt physically ill from the worry of the second half of trip, especially since the oldest, most pregnant cow was having a rough journey. It was torturous to not be able to do anything but try to get her home. What felt like a long trip on the way out felt like an eternity on the way back.

But finally, just before sunset, we pulled up. Alanna and Normandy came to meet us, and we were all terrified as we lowered the ramp. The two younger cows trotted out, but the old one was lying down, but she managed to scramble out of the trailer and to stand. Then all three went to the hay we had put out for them and started munching, and we went inside to eat dinner and drink a bottle of wine.

We have been spending as much time as possible with them, and they are rapidly adjusting to the new situation, though it may be a long while before the oldest, who already was the most skittish cow, trusts us entirely. They had been eating mostly hay and silage, but we are moving them onto pasture. For now we are thankful that everyone is fine. And we're hoping that the calves are girls.



  1. AWESOME! Congrats on the cows!

  2. So, so, so GREAT!! What an expedition. They are nice looking cows. Can't wait to hear about the babes when they are born.

  3. I'm a grandma to three cows!!! So excited and can't wait to met them.