I can't believe that in Kula's three weeks thus far on the farm, she's yet to have an entire blog post devoted to her existence.
After all, I've been longing for a dairy cow for… years… and years… and years.
And, as the good Lord would have it, the time has come. Beatha Fonn has been blessed by our very first dairy cow.
Although, if one were to ask my husband, ‘blessed' may not be the term he would use for her stay thus far.
Let's start at the beginning.
Naive in cattle endevours (as in almost all things we're attempting right now), we purchased Kula while still in Alabama. She was lined up to be delivererd to our home only a short week after we were set to arrive. I know this seemed rushed, and I also knew that it wasn't wise to purchase any livestock without seeing and handling them yourself, but we did pray about the situation and felt good purchasing Kula after my Dad, Uncle, and Grandpa payed her a short visit.
She looked cared for. Loved. Fairly gentle.
Kula was sold to us as a Jersey family milk cow, due to calve in September with her third calf. Again, I knew that this would be rushing it to be set up for calving and milking only three short months after our arrival to Washington, but I've never been one to let grass grow under my feet. I figured we'd make it work, somehow…
Fast forward a few weeks to when Kula arrived at the farm. She was happy in her temporary electric-fence corral. She was even patient and calm while the men hammered a permanent, wooden corral around her area. Pretty docile. Pretty sweet.
But was she pregnant? I wasn't sure.
I decided to have the local large-animal Veterinarian come out and preg-check her to confirm she was pregnant. I certainly didn't want to spend the $65 on the farm call and the $20 on the rectal-check, but there's a lot at stake with an expensive animal and an expensive calf waiting to be born.
He came. Confirmed that we were naive and ignorant and even worse, confirmed that Kula was ‘open'.
‘Open' meaning ‘still open for business, ‘cuz she sure ain't pregnant.'
No pregnancy = no birth = no calf = no milk.
I spent the next week trying to figure out what the heck I was going to do with an open dairy cow. Livestock isn't a huge industry around these parts, so it's not like wonderful breeding bulls are just hangin' out in the neighborhood waiting for cows to service.
And yes, that's what I prefer to call it (‘service' – meaning ‘attempting to get the cow pregnant'). Just so we're all on the same page.
I spoke with Kula's previous owner, who was very apologetic about her not being pregnant. He had put her with a bull for awhile and then removed her, once she lost interested in the bull. He figured that since she had lost interest in the bull, she must be pregnant. Come to find out, the pregnancy had never been confirmed by a Veterinarian.
In reality, this was just as much my fault as it was his. He shouldn't have advertised her as a bred cow without confirmation, and I surely shouldn't have purchased her as a bred cow without requesting my own confirmation from the Vet. We were both at fault.
Touch Farm Lesson #91,475: If you're purchasing a pregnant cow, always request a confirmation from a Vet that said cow is actually pregnant. Which I would have known had I read THIS BOOK prior to purchasing Kula (yes, I now own it and read it constantly!).
Just save yourself the heartache.
After failing to attempt and find anyone local who could possibly artificially inseminate Kula, as well as failing to find another bull close by, I once again returned to her previous owner. He was willing to lend me his 2 1/2 year old Jersey bull to service her. I wasn't super keen on this idea simply because Kula had previously been with this bull for a period of time and wasn't pregnant.
What if he was sterile, or as I affectionately refer to it, ‘shooting blanks'?
Had Kula been pregnant, yet miscarried?
Did one of them have an STD that was preventing conception (yes, cattle can get them too…)?
Had they not been together for enough heat cycles to really have a chance at getting pregnant in the first place?
All these unanswered questions had yet to be answered. But what I knew was that I had a cow, in heat, and I needed a bull to get her pregnant.
And thus, a Jersey bull was delivered to our barn this past weekend.
Within five minutes of his entering the corral, he mounted Kula. Well, technically, he mounted her side. Needless to say, it was unsuccessful. He's still a young chap, not yet established and confidence in his ways (if ya know what I mean).
Kula was good to stand for him though and would actually turn around to put her backside right in his face. At least someone around here knew what they were doing. Since those awkward first attempts, even despite the fact that they can't be seen from our house, we've visually confirmed them successfully…ummm….how do I say…doin' it… two times. At the end of the first day, she was walking around with her tail-head sort of cocked to the side. She also had a lot of mucous (I really would like a better word for that…), which is an encouraging sign.
And speaking of two times, that's exactly how many times that stupid bull has plowed through our corral fence. The funniest part is that this bull probably weighs 900 pounds. He's so, so teeny it's ridiculous.
Teeny enough to squeeze through a small portion of fence that wasn't connected to a sunken post… but surely strong enough to completely pop the nails, staples, and wood out from the side of the shelter.
The first escape attempt found him in our neighbors yard, munching on their lawn (face to palm in embarrassment). The second escape found him in our large pasture that we're fencing at the moment, grazing away on the weeds. Thank God, both times he was able to be lured back into the corral by the promise of some delicious alfalfa. But dang, man. Ain't nobody want a bull loose (that, by the way, isn't theirs in the first place!).
After his second escape last night, we seriously contemplated continuing to keep him at the house. It's such a liability… such a huge animal…
…and, if you haven't noticed, we really aren't sure of what we're doing anyway.
That being said, we have learned so much already. Reading about recognizing heat cycles… or examining udders… or breeding cattle… or handling bulls… none of it really makes sense until you're in there, up to your knees in poo, building fence, feeding hay, and learning to work with an animal 10 times your size.
It's difficult to not get discouraged, or just feel stupid. Which, admittingly, we do. But even though it's been a difficult journey thus far with Kula, it's been such a wonderful teaching experience for us. We are so much wiser, already, than we were a month ago. Stuart, who has never been around a cow EVER, is learning how to establish his personal zone, teach Kula to respect him, and is quickly catching on to the overall handling and care of livestock. And even though I've been around livestock a lot, I'm still learning much of the same. Each cow is different, as is each corral, pasture, breeding cycle, etc.
We will continue to watch Kula closely. The bull will remain for a few months, until we confirm that he has ‘settled the matter'. Cows naturally come into heat ever 17-24 days, so if in three weeks she doesn't come into heat and refuses to let him mount her, then we can be fairly confidence that she has conceived (we'll confirm with our Vet before sending the bull home this time).
Ah, sweet, painful lessons.
I think I'll start a new blog-post series called “Friday Farm Lessons” in which I can expose and document all the difficult lessons learned at Beatha Fonn.
Nothin' like making your failure public to really motivate some quick learning!