|Mayfield, my first Jersey|
I had intended to end my portion of the meet the farmer series with last weeks post where I told about my years in Alaska and, how Mike and I later came to be a couple. However, I realized the story would not be complete unless I included my journey with the Jersey cows. Although my parents never owned cattle of their own, I think spending five years living in the middle of a cow pasture where the beef cattle literally rubbed their heads against my bedroom wall as I gazed at them through the windows from the top bunk of my bed, must have made me feel as if I must always be among them. It was also during those years on the farm that my dad went to work for a local dairy farmer, and listening to the stories he told of cows with names and personalities, only encouraged me further. It was also during these formative years that I was introduced to a small, big eyed, gentle Jersey cow owned by a local veterinarian when we began to get raw milk for our table. It was this little Jersey cow that sparked my love affair with the Jersey breed.
After Mike and I became a couple, much to his chagrin, I told him I wanted a Jersey family cow. Loving me as he does, and always wanting me to be happy, he sighed and started helping me look for a family cow. Mike was a third generation dairy farmer. His grandfather, who was a Church of the Brethren lay preacher (without pay), started the dairy to support his family. Then Mike's dad took over the dairy, and eventually he handed it over to Mike and his brother who operated it together for a while. Eventually, Mike's brother sold out his portion of the dairy. Mike held on for a while on his own but ended up selling his dairy cows just a couple years before he met me. Mike knew well how hard it was to keep a dairy going. It's a seven day a week job and EVERYTHING esle that needs to be accomplished in a dairyy farmer's life has to be done BETWEEN MILKINGS. In spite of knowing the commitment and time involved, Mike agreed to help me find a family cow. I had one specification: the cow had to be a Jersey.
When we began our search for a Jersey, it was more difficult than I had imagined. At that time, there just were not a lot of family cow owners like there are now. ( It seems in recent years, owning a house cow has really become more common, or perhaps the internet has served to unite us in ways we didn't know in the past.) Ten years ago, when I searched all the classifieds, there just were not any Jerseys to be found. I called every dairy I could find that was within a day's drive, and most of the farmers just flat turned me down. They didn't want to waste their time with someone looking for a "family cow" and they told me so. The few cows I did find for sale were cross breeds. When I did have a chance actually see some registered Jerseys, I was shocked at their size. They were much bigger than what I remembered the little cow from my youth that had provided our family with raw milk.
I began to broaden my search, looking further and further away from home. I looked to the internet for leads and stumbled across a couple of web sites for Miniature Jerseys. Immediately, I was drawn to the Miniatures because they reminded me so much of that little Jersey cow when I was a kid back in Missouri. As I researched the Mini Jerseys, it became apparent to me that I would never be able to find one for sale without getting on a long waiting list and spending an extravagant amount of money. (Today, you can find Mini Jersey breeders within driving distance of most folks. Ten years ago, that wasn't so as they were more rare.)
Months passed and I couldn't find my cow. Then my brother, who lives in Georgia, happened to see an advertisement from a petting zoo in the Atlanta area that had some older Miniature Jersey cows for sale. Mike called and talked to the lady who owned them but there was no way he was going to pay her asking price. These were older cows and while one was obviously Jersey, the other seemed very questionable. She would not sell them separately and required that we buy the two cows and a bull as a group in order to get them. Mike negotiated and negotiated until finally we were able to buy the group for a fair price. These cows were six and seven years old and had never been milked. They had simply been kept to produce calves. The girls were getting older and the owner was replacing them with younger stock.
We prepared a place for the two girls and the bull and then drove to Georgia to pick them up. I had a few months to let the girls warm up to me while waiting for them to calve. We got them in the fall and in early spring, they calved. That was when reality replaced the stars in my eyes. I set out to milk by hand. Since Edy and Mayfield had never previously been milked, it turned out to be a real adventure ( and not necessarily of the pleasant kind). Twice a day there were tears, yelling, cursing, bruises, cuts, and scrapes from the farmers. It became apparent to me very quickly that I was not born with the ability to hand milk rapidly enough to satisfy either my dairy farmer husband or my two Jersey girls. I was head over heals in love with my Jersey cows at this time, but wondered if we would ever be able to train them to milk after their living so much of their lives without being handled. As a testament to my husband's love, he did not give up, nor did he allow me to give up. Together, we were able to break those two old girls to milk and within a couple of months, Mike bought me an old Surge bucket milker so that I didn't have to milk by hand. (Now that I am more relaxed and have trained cows, I choose to milk by hand sometimes, but I still prefer to use my machine.)
Those two girls only served to wet my appetite for more and with their arrival came folks literally knocking at my door and asking me for raw milk. At first, I refused but eventually I gave in to the demand and started a cow share program. I never advertised and word of mouth grew the business until at one time I was milking 12 cows and providing 90 gallons of milk a week to my share members.
Those years were filled with lessons of which I never dreamed, joys I never imagined, more work than I can describe, and plenty of stress and tears. The cows literally kept me "living" when my 18 year old son died unexpectedly and tragically and my bond with the bovine is something so deep that I find it difficult to convey to others. I ended the share program just this past fall and sold the majority of my cows because life changes and often we need to adjust to those changes. I am thankful for the Jerseys in my life, the years of the cow share program, and being able to enjoy the few Jersey girls I have now.