I hear it time and again: ‘ I want your life’
People learn that I have dairy cows and beef cows, live in a restored farm cottage and raise much of our own food and they get wistful and ‘ooh’ and ‘ahh’ at the idea of fresh food and livestock surrounding a quaint country cottage in a remote town. It is romantic. It is cozy. It is peaceful.
It is hard.
It is a hard way of life. It is often a stressful way of life. It is an all-consuming way of life.
People imagine bucolic pastures and contented cows that give milk on demand and at the farmer’s leisure. What they don’t –and can’t–imagine is what a struggle it is to get a cow to give milk at times nor how much daily work goes into each and every cow to keep her healthy and in milk.
They don’t imagine the worry that goes with the wonder of owning and breeding livestock.
They don’t imagine that the cute cow they see in photos on social media, happily being milked by a cheerful milk maid tried to kill her keeper in her training period.
They don’t imagine how inherently clumsy and dangerous cows are( my best friend says that cows don’t know where their ends are sometimes),–nor do they imagine how moody and unpredictable a cow in estrus or close to calving can be.
They don’t imagine being chased across a field by a mad mama cow and hoping you make it to the gate before she catches you.
They don’t imagine a perfectly lovely, trained, 800 lb. dairy girl walking across your toes in the parlor because you forgot to pull your foot back. Or being pressed hard against a solid wall by a sweet cow who was just not paying attention to where you were.
They don’t imagine many things in those moments of envious reverie.
They see the beautiful, lush pastures but do not see the mud in the common areas or the flies that swarm everything and cover up your house and car and bite you and the cows.
People admire beautiful cows in great condition but have no idea how much planning, time and money goes in to keeping them that way.
I don’t buy expensive clothes, I buy expensive cow minerals.
I don’t ‘ get away’–I get up before the sun. Every. Single.Day.
No one who doesn’t live it can imagine the life of a farmer: The work involved that is back breaking and heart breaking. The losses you suffer become part of you, sometimes teaching you and sometimes just hurting you.
Keeping the barns, the parlor, the yards, the troughs etc…clean and tidy is no easy feat.
Keeping the animals healthy and happy is not something that comes naturally to anyone, it is a science–and an art.
No days off, kids ! Rain, snow, ice storm, hurricane…doesn’t matter. Animals still have to be cared for, worried over, milked…
Sick??? Tough. The work isn’t going to do itself and I promise you won’t be able to afford someone to do it for you. No one wants your job but you.
Broken bone? too bad. Get to work. I once walked ( dragged, stumbled, leaned, hopped) around for two and a half weeks on a broken ankle with the tendons torn completely away before I could make it to a doctor and have corrective surgery.
The feed bills are not something that comes to mind either: grain, hay, alfalfa, minerals…even if you plant and harvest your own , it costs ya !
The equipment is not on anyone’s mind either: tractors, hay forks, troughs, milking machines, etc…
So many expenses that no one considers.
Veterinary care: maintenance vetting ( dehorning etc ) is quite costly, but there is major expense if something goes wrong., Budget devastating if something goes REALLY wrong. My highest single event vet bill was $3200 and I lost the cow. Sometimes, even finding a good farm vet is impossible depending on your area. If that is the case, I really advise not having a cow. If something goes wrong and you can’t handle it, you will blame yourself for a loss due to lack of vetting.
Time. There’s one to consider ! Especially if you work outside the home as I do helping my husband and my son with their businesses. There are only so many hours in a day and there are always so many things on your list, not counting your normal ‘ duties’ like cleaning, laundry, cooking, helping your kids with whatever they need of you…
I am lucky to be able to make doctor appointments or lunch with my friend once every three months. Every activity is scheduled around milking my cows or caring for the animals. I have a hard time even making it to special occasions with my family.
” I want to live your life”.
One instance of that being spoken inspired me to write this post because despite my advise and cautionary tales, someone jumped in and nearly went under.
She called me several months ago wanting to ask about keeping a dairy cow. Just one.
I advised her how to set up her parlor for hand milking, how to set up her yards so they would be convenient and safe, how to build a run-in shed barn, etc..
I told her all the things I touch on here–the worst of the worst. Still she persisted in her quest for a cow.
I told her what to look for in a family cow and since I had none to offer, I helped her pick one. I went to her homestead and taught her how to prep and milk her cow when the cow arrived. I made myself available to answer all her questions.
Three months later I got a call from her. She opened with , ” I think I made a mistake.” and the conversation , and her cow’s future, went downhill from there.
She thought I was exaggerating all the work and expense and worry. No, seriously, that’s what she told me. She thought I was exaggerating. Sigh.
If she believed half of what I told her is true it should have been enough to spark her brain into realizing she shouldn’t have a cow with her lifestyle that she was unwilling to change.
The picture is never the whole story.
That is what I leave you with. You cannot see the work, the strain, the worry, the suffering, the efforts, the expenses, the exhaustion, the physical stress…not in a picture.
Enjoy the photos of happy cows and the posts of contented farmers, but understand that the cows are happy because of proper care and attention and the farmer is tired but satisfied with her choices. If you are considering those choices for yourself, ask the hard questions and for the love of cows, believe the answers you get.