After reading Part 1 of this post detailing the many challenges I faced during my first 5 months of owning my cow, you may be wondering why anyone would go to all that trouble. What can possibly make it worth it?
Keeping a cow isn't all trials and tribulations. There are wonderful rewards as well. Some of them are emotional or spiritual. Others are as practical as can be. To me, they make it all worthwhile.
Reward #1: The Cow
First of all, I got to know and build a relationship with a very interesting 4-legged "person" in the guise of my girl Thistle. I never knew a cow before, and Thistle has far more intelligence, personality, and individuality than I ever expected. She has certainly tested, frustrated, and challenged me, but she has also helped me hone my courage, persistence, empathy, and leadership skills, as well as my physical fitness. She holds me accountable for my own actions and makes me own up to my mistakes.
She has, in short, become the sort of friend that challenges me to become a better, stronger, more self-reliant person. I can't say as much for every human relationship I've ever had!
Reward #2: The Replacement Heifer
After the enormous amount of time and effort it took to find and buy Thistle, it seemed like nothing short of a miracle to have Ivy be born just a few weeks later, and have her turn out to be a heifer. It could just as easily have turned out that Thistle gave birth to nothing but bull calf after bull calf for years in a row.
Thistle is not an old cow, but she is middle aged, and I was always aware that she might not continue to be with us for a great many years. But here, miraculously, is Ivy, who can be Thistle's companion while she is with us and her replacement after she is gone. I don't have to hope and pray every time calving time comes around that I'll finally get my replacement heifer, because she is already here.
Essentially, by giving me this lovely heifer who is equal in value to her mother, Thistle has already paid for herself.
I know for a fact that Ivy will offer her own array of challenges to me in the future. She is already an opinionated, strong-willed little diva who wants what she wants, and she wants it NOW. But she's also sweet, affectionate, playful, well-grown, and healthy, and beautiful. I couldn't ask for anything more!
Reward #3: The Meat Calf
We already raise our own pork, lamb, chicken, and eggs, but even with all that variety we still crave beef. By using Thistle's extra milk to raise a foster calf for meat, we will be able to be completely self sufficient for all of our meat needs. We'll know that all of our meat came from happy, well-loved animals that got to live healthy lives full of grass and sunshine and never had to set foot in a feed lot.
Because Misha will be raised primarily on surplus milk and pasture, he will cost us very little to feed. We will be able to put a year's worth of beef in the freezer for us and still sell a side of beef to another family. Not only will this pay for the butchering fees and provide a small amount of profit, it will also offer another family the chance for humanely grown, healthy meat to feed them through the year.
For that great service and sacrifice, we love and honor our boy Misha and are grateful to Thistle whose milk makes this all possible.
Reward #4: The Smiles
It is a joy and privilege to be able to share my time with Ivy and Misha---two vibrant, adorable little beings who are the epitome of youth and cuteness. Who can NOT smile when seeing happy calves at play? Who can stay sad when being lavished with rough, sticky calf kisses? I'm lucky enough to get to do it every day.
Photos can't portray how much better the fresh raw milk tastes, but you can SEE the difference. On the left is a glass of Thistle's golden milk, rich with beta-carotene from her grazing on fresh grass. On the right is a glass of Store Milk, which tastes thin, industrial, and dead:
Thistle may not be earning any income right now, but as we settle into a routine together, the income potential is there. I still plan to sell cow shares with her eventually. When Misha goes to the butcher, I'll sell a side of beef. In future years, there will be more calves to sell, either for beef or breeding. I'll sell my handmade cream soap and other cow-related products such as hides, horns, etc. And eventually, I'll have surplus fruits and veggies to sell from our cow-manure-fertilized gardens.
Keeping a cow is definitely not a road to fast or easy riches, but for a farmer with patience and determination, there's no doubt in my mind that it is an experience that can vastly enrich your life.