I have a dear, dear friend who sees the role of animals slightly different than I do. She believes that all animals should live a long, healthy life – never to end up on someone’s dinner plant. I agree, but to an extent. More specifically, I view the role of farm animals as the source of my family’s, and thousands of others', livelihood.
Having lived on a dairy farm all my life, I learned at a young age that all animals must die. If the cow isn’t producing like she should, as my dad would say, she’s sent down the road – meaning to the auction, intended for slaughter.
My show cows are my babies. I love them like children, and it breaks my heart when one of them has to be sent down the road. But I’m old enough to understand why and I move on.
One of my favorite cows right now is a Holstein named Ariel. She has never won any big shows, but she’s scored excellent and has a lot of potential. She has the kind of confirmation that you want to build off, make her a brood cow. But she has a lot of “issues” too.
Ariel has always had a somatic cell problem. Every lactation, for almost the entire lactation, she gets mastitis in at least one quarter. This year, she had it in three quarters. Because my dad tried so hard to clear the mastitis with antibiotics, she aborted her calf – and getting her to settle in the first place is a constant battle.
At that point, I had to ask myself just how much work Ariel was worth? If she had been just a typical, run-of-the-mill cow in the herd, she’d probably have been culled long ago.
To make matters a little harder, I only have one daughter out of Ariel, and that daughter suffered an untimely injury, taking her out of the show ring forever. It would be a lot easier for me to sell Ariel if she had more offspring.
So the “logical” solution in my book is to flush her, get as many offspring as I can, and sell her afterward to pay for the flush. My dad and husband latched onto the idea, and we’re in the process now of synchronizing Ariel and the potential embryo recipients. Picking a bull to mate her with proved to be a challenge too since I had to find one that could correct her SCC problem, produce daughters with better reproduction and correct teat size, all while maintaining her good show qualities.
To make my decision-making process a little more challenging, Ariel has turned the tables on us. After aborting her calf, her mastitis cleared and she’s bounced back nicely in milk production. She must have heard her potential fate and decided to kick her game up a notch. If she keeps it up, I might have to find another way to pay for her flush.
Oh how I love her, but man is she difficult. And expensive!
~ Jessica Rose Spangler, market editor