Friday, September 23, 2011

The Long, LONG Road to Cow Ownership

If you recall my previous post, you may think that I've had a cow for months now, and that cow ownership came about very easily, almost miraculously, for me.  However, things don't always turn out the way we plan.  In fact, it has taken me 7 months and way too many failed attempts to FINALLY get a cow of my own.

Here's how it went:

2/15/11:  I enter the essay contest described in my previous post, to win a free Jersey heifer named Amethyst.

3/15/11:  The contest ends.  Although I am a finalist, I don't win the calf.

3/29/11:  The person who hosted the contest contacts me, saying she's been thinking about my essay and wants to offer me a different Jersey heifer, named Rosie, for free.  We delightedly accept, and plan to get her shipped here in mid May.

4/6/11:  After numerous inquiries, I locate a shipper who is willing to transport Rosie from her home in Maryland to us.  We start making arrangements for her arrival.

5/2/11:  I mail Rosie's owners payment for her vet check and vaccinations.  I mail payment and a signed contract to the shipper.

5/3/11:  Rosie's owner contacts me and tells me that she can't bear to part with Rosie after all.  She offers to give us a different heifer sometime during the summer or fall, instead.  I have to contact the shipper and ask him to tear up the shipping contract and check when it arrives.

6/7/11:  Rosie's owner contacts me again.  She doesn't have a heifer to offer me at this time, but instead she offers to let me "borrow" one of her bred heifers.  In exchange for taking care of her cow for an unspecified amount of time, I will be allowed to keep a heifer calf from the cow.

6/9/11:  I email Rosie's owner with thanks, and turn down her offer.  I'm not comfortable with the responsibility of keeping someone else's cow.  I've raised enough animals to know that whatever your good intentions, sometimes things go wrong.  If something went wrong with this cow, it would be bound to lead to hard feelings.  Even if everything went perfectly, it would be emotionally difficult to bond with this cow for months or years, only to have her eventually go home to her real owner.

6/10/11:  I decide to take charge of my own quest for a cow.  Although I have always assumed that when I got a cow, it would be a Jersey, I now decide to at least explore the advantages and disadvantages of other breeds as well.  I ask other farmers I know about the breeds they raise, particularly the heritage breeds.  Based on what they tell me, I decide that Dexters and Milking Devons are not for me, but that Guernseys might be a possibility.  I begin searching every Craig's List cow-for-sale ad within 600 miles (which, for the record, means checking 109 different Craig's Lists every day).  I respond to dozens of ads.  Almost no one responds. 

6/18/11:  I get a response from someone who has a Jersey/Guernsey heifer named Bonnie and a bred Guernsey cow named Lily for sale.  In their photos, they look terrific. 

6/25/11:  Ken and I drive down to North Carolina to look at Bonnie and Lily.  I like Lily very much, and we decide to buy her.  She is due to calve very soon, so we decide to wait until after the calf is born, then her owners' father will ship her for us.

6/27/11:  I start making arrangements for Lily's vet check. 

6/28/11:  I order several hundred dollars worth of cow supplies:  feed, halters, milking supplies (that stuff ain't cheap!), everything I can think of that I will need to properly take care of Lily and her calf.

6/29/11:  I send Lily's owner a deposit, although the sale is still conditional on Lily passing her vet check.

7/7/11:  Although Lily was bred with sexed semen (which gives a 90% chance of a heifer calf), today she gives birth to a bull calf.  Naturally we are disappointed, but even so, the idea of having our own home-grown beef is appealing.  We eagerly wait for Lily and her calf to be shipped to us.

7/13/11:  We've heard nothing from Lily's owners, so I email them to check when we should expect her to arrive.

7/19/11:  Still no word.  Ken phones Lily's owners, leaves a message.

7/20/11:  Email from Lily's owners.  Lily has mastitis.  She also has still not had her vet check.  I am concerned, but hope for Lily's prompt recovery.

7/22/11:  Lily gets a vet visit to get a culture of the infected teat, to determine the best course of treatment.

7/24/11:  Lily's owners write to tell me that her mastitis shows a little improvement, and that (at my request) they have banded the bull calf for us.

7/30/11:  Lily's owners write to let me know that her mastitis is still not clearing up, and that it is likely that she will lose the infected quarter.  I'm undecided on what to do.  I really like Lily, but when I signed on to buy her, she was a 4-quartered cow with no history of mastitis and was supposedly expecting a heifer calf.  Now she's a 3-quartered cow with persistent mastitis and a bull calf.  I WANT her to be the right cow for me, but it's not looking good.

8/1/11:  I'm still considering buying Lily, but even if it doesn't work out, I have now become enamored of the idea of getting a Guernsey instead of a Jersey.  This is a surprise to me, since I've always thought I wanted a Jersey.  I want a cow that's not too big, and for some reason, I had always pictured Guernseys as huge---basically blonde versions of Holsteins---but Lily is a lovely compact size, just right for me.  Guernseys are no longer as common as they once were, and it appeals to me to raise a breed that is more rare, because I feel like I'm doing some good to help preserve an uncommon heritage breed.  I also like what I hear from a friend who has a couple of Guernseys:  They are exceptionally docile, and their milk is particularly high-yielding for making cheese.  So, in addition to my daily combing of 109 Craig's List pages looking for Jerseys for sale, I now also start actively looking for Guernseys.  I contact everyone I can find who might have a Guernsey for sale within 600 miles of here.  Again, almost no one responds.

8/5/11:  Although I still haven't decided 100% for certain that I definitely no longer want to buy Lily, Lily's owners refund my deposit.  Her mastitis is not yet cleared up.  The sale is off.  On the bright side, I get a reply back from one of the other people I contacted.  They have a bred Guernsey heifer named Cinnamon for sale in New York.  Based on the photos and info they send me, she sounds perfect.  After all these months of delays and frustrations, I am very impatient to get my cow, so I immediately offer to buy Cinnamon.  Once again, I start making arrangements for vet checks and shippers.

8/6/11:  We drive an hour into town to get a cashier's check to pay for Cinnamon, and we send it by certified mail.

8/7/11:  Cinnamon's owner gets a shipping quote from a neighbor who is willing to ship Cinnamon for us.  The quote is for $1,200, which is nearly what we're paying for the cow!  I think this is crazy-high, so I contact the shipper who had originally agreed to transport Rosie (remember Rosie?) for us, asking for a quote. 

8/9/11:  I hear back from the shipper.  He'll transport Cinnamon for $495.  I say great, and email Cinnamon's owner to schedule the shipping date.  We also hear back from one of the other Guernsey owners we contacted a week ago:  She did have another prospective buyer for her Guernsey, but he decided to wait, so now her cow is available again.  We say:  Sorry, we just bought a different cow.

8/10/11:  I get an email from Cinnamon's owner saying, "Sorry, due to unforeseen circumstances, Cinnamon won't be available for sale."  What the hell????  By this point I'm starting to think I'm under some kind of anti-cow curse.  How many cows do I have to arrange vet checks and shipping for before I can actually GET a real, live cow?  This whole process feels like it's been going on forever, and I'm now so paranoid, it hardly seems worth it to even try to make any more arrangements, because whatever I do, they always fall through in the end.  Once again, I contact the shipper, and tell him I have to cancel my contract.

8/11/11:  I pull myself together enough to ask Ken to phone the other Guernsey owner we just turned down, and ask about the cow for me.  The person is unable to send me any digital photos, but it turns out that this cow is just over the border into NC, only 2 hours from here.  We make arrangements to drive down and see her on the weekend.

8/14/11:  We drive to NC to see the cow.  She's a lot bigger than Lily, but not so big that I consider it a drawback.  I like the look of her.  She's not 100% perfect:  her front teats are long, while her back ones are short, so it will take a little extra effort to milk her.  But other than that, she seems to have nice udder conformation, and she's in excellent condition.  She's 6 years old, and is due to have a Guernsey calf in October.  Because I've been checking all the Craig's List ads on a daily basis throughout this entire ordeal, I know that this is actually the only full-blood, adult Guernsey advertised for sale within 600 miles of my farm.  I don't want to lose this opportunity.  I write the owner a check on the spot.  Paid in full.  As an afterthought, I remember to ask the cow's name:  Elsie.

8/15/11:  Talking with my sister on the phone, I mention that I'm not thrilled with the cow having such a cliched name as Elsie.  Everybody names their cow Elsie.  That's too boring.  My sister says I should name the cow "Thistle" because after all my failed attempts over the past few months, "This'll" be my cow.  I love this!  Elsie is officially renamed Thistle.

8/18/11:  Thistle has her vet check, but it will take 2 weeks to get the results back.  More waiting!

8/31/11: Yet AGAIN, I contact my shipper guy, and ask for a quote to transport my cow.

9/1/11:  Thistle's test results come back good.  We can proceed with the purchase.  The shipper quotes me a good price and says he will transport the cow sometime between 9/6/11 and 9/16/11.  Soon I'll have my cow!

9/6/11:  I send payment to the shipper and sign yet another shipping contract.  I also send payment to Thistle's owner paying for the vet check.

9/10/11:  I hear from the shipper.  He says he will deliver the cow late this week.  I'm so excited!

9/15/11:  I haven't heard anything from the shipper.  I contact him to ask when we should expect him to bring the cow.

9/16/11:  Still no word from the shipper, although I try again to contact him.  Even more alarming, we speak to the cow owner and discover that the shipper has not even contacted her at all, not to get directions on where to pick up the cow and not to find out when she will be available for him to come.  Since this is the last date in the timeframe he quoted for delivery and he's still clearly made no arrangements to pick up my cow, I start to get anxious again, paranoid that yet another cow sale is going to fall through at the last minute.  Through the cow owner, we find another shipper who can transport Thistle, possibly around 9/21 or 9/22.  We wait for confirmation.

9/17/11:  I hear from the original shipper.  He hopes to do the delivery within the next day or two, if we still want him to.  At this point I don't care who delivers the cow, I just want her HERE!

9/18/11:  Ken speaks to the original shipper on the phone and gets confirmation that he will definitely deliver the cow on 9/19 or 9/20.  We contact the cow owner to let her know.  We tell her if the shipper doesn't come as scheduled, then we'll pay her friend to deliver Thistle on 9/21 or 9/22.

9/19/11:  Late afternoon, after 7 months of trying and multiple failed attempts, MY COW FINALLY ARRIVES.  Hurray!  I'm a cow owner!

And here, at last, is the lovely lady herself, my Guernsey cow, Thistle:

Now we have about a month to get acquainted before she is due to have her calf, and I have to learn to milk her.  Wish me luck!


Elaine said...

Nancy, great post, what I like best is the photo "reward" at the end of the post! Congratulations!

Natalya said...

WOW! SPEECHLESS! I hope my road to eventual cow ownership is a bit more straight forward, whenever I'm in a position to start it. I've had pretty good luck so far with buying rams sight-unseen and having them shipped thousands of miles, so it CAN happen.

It is a good story for beginners to read, to understand the importance of following up on all the details. Too many newbies think they can just drive across state lines, load up an animal without it ever having seen a vet, and drive it home and all will be well. I omitted the vet checks for several early sheep purchases (didn't know they were required for crossing state lines, luckily I wasn't crossing state lines anyhow so at least I was legal), and ended up with at least two incurable diseases in the flock that cost years and $$$ to eradicate. Getting the wrong beast is worse than getting no beast at all!

Happy cow ownership!
Natalya Lowther
Pinwheel Farm
Lawrence, KS

V.R. Leavitt said...

Saga is right!!! Holy moly!! She is very pretty and I'm glad you finally have her. :-)

thecrazysheeplady said...

Aw, she's beautiful! And what a story - almost unbelievable.

Mary Ann said...

My favorite uncle milked Holsteins, but right down the road from him was a Guernsey dairy. I loved seeing those lovely brown and white cows, and often think of them. I think Thistle is great! Good for you for sticking to your guns for so many months!