Sometimes it's tough being a farmer. Life and death reside side by side on every animal farm. One day Elspeth was a happy, furry white heifer who loved carrots and back scratches. The next day the adorable 4-year-old Scottish Highlander was dead in a field.
Elspeth joined the farm in March of 2017. Her owners were moving from their farm in Virginia to a place in Kittery, Maine, that had no pasture for her. They reached out to me, and soon I had a paying guest. Even though Elspeth was small, she hit it off with the herd and befriended another smallish heifer named Winnie. They were inseparable, day and night.
Elspeth's horns grew longer and curved, perfectly matched, out to the side and up. Her horns and mud caused her demise. When sleeping, she must have rested one horn on the ground. The horn stuck in the mud so she could not get up. “A down cow is a dead cow,” is the old farmer saying. The sight of a helpless cow awakes something dark and primal in the other cattle, and they attack. I didn't find her in time to rescue her.
On a beef farm, death is an inevitable part of the equation. It’s always sad. But it’s much worse when it’s unexpected, painful and inflicted by usually gentle peers. Even though it’s an instinctive act, it feels like a betrayal as well as a tragedy.
Devastated, I called her owners to let them know.
The farm takes away, but it also gives. Two days later another 4-year-old, Star, gave birth in the early morning. Mother and daughter were standing at the holding-pen gate in the morning waiting to be let in. Star knew she would get special treats as a new mother and was there to claim them. We let the pair in and fed Mom extra hay and brewer's grain.
Star nuzzled and chortle-mooed to Rain while the baby sucked at Mom's ample teats. Within a day, Rain was hopping around the pen, tail straight up, leaping and test-driving her new legs. At four days old, she would dash around the pen while Mom peacefully munched on hay.
By just being her exuberant self, Rain helped us entertain over 700 visitors during our free pre-Easter “Cuddle a Cow” event at Miles Smith Farm. There’s nothing like a lively, fuzzy baby to soothe a sentimental farmer’s broken heart.