Written by Jerry Crownover
Cows are similar to people, in that the older they get, the more health problems they start to encounter. Their mobility may be hampered by stiff joints or bad feet, their eyesight may become clouded with cataracts or scarring from past eye problems, and their teeth either begin to fall out or get so worn that they have problems eating. Unfortunately, at my advanced age, I can relate to all these maladies.
In college, I learned that cattlemen should do a very aggressive job of culling their cowherd each year. I can remember the knowledgeable old animal husbandry professor chiding producers that allowed older cows to remain in the herd. “Sell them while they’re still valuable,” he’d say, “and let someone less intelligent than you deal with the problems of advancing age.”
Yet, I would go home on the weekend and watch my father giving a little extra TLC to the 23-year-old cow that was still producing a good calf every year. My academic education and my real-life education seemed to be in conflict.
Back at school, the professor would tell us to sell that cow with only three working spigots. We should also sell the cow that lost her calf this year. “You can’t afford to feed one animal that’s not producing for you,” he’d scream. He also wanted us to sell the one that didn’t cycle on time, the one whose left, outside toe had grown out, the one that had the breach calf, as well as, the one with the sagging udder and all that were older than 10.
In my younger days, I tried to adhere to most of these suggestions, but as I got older, I farmed more like dad and realized that if I culled that stringently, I’d only have about 37 cows left in my herd. So, now, I compromise, and try to run my operation in a kinder and gentler way that seems to have been brought on with my own advancing age. I have lots of old cows, several one-eyed, many with three teats, and a few with long toes. I try to manage them with care and help make them productive for a few more years. Sometimes I fail and have to borrow the neighbor’s backhoe… but I try.
Here lately, it’s been kind of amusing to my wife, as I seem to hook on to the trailer every couple of weeks to go load up a cow. Judy will always ask, “Is it the vet or the sale barn, today?” If it’s something that I think can be alleviated by help from treatment, she goes to the vet. If it’s beyond anything I or the good doctor can do, I usually head to the auction barn.
Last week, I had to make one of those decisions on an old cow. She lost her calf last year to a sudden and unexplained death after it was about 10 days old. This year, her seemingly healthy calf died about a week after its birth and the cow started having mobility issues. I knew her time had come to leave, so I loaded her up and took her to the auction after answering Judy’s question, “Is it the sale barn or the vet?”
The evening after I got back from the sale barn, I decided to go to bed early. As I started down the stairs to the bedroom, I slipped on a ladies shoe that had been left on one of the steps (I’m not saying who left it there, but it’s just Judy and I that live here). As my ankle turned and my feet went flying, I grabbed for the railing with my right hand, but an extended arm can’t do much to break the fall of a 230-pound mass of humanity. Given the angle of the stairs, and my body, I simultaneously landed on my left wrist, middle back, right shoulder and the back of my head, and proceeded to slide down the stairs much like grandma’s clothes on an old washboard.
Hearing my catastrophe, Judy rushed to the top of the stairs only to see me gasping for breath at the bottom. After what seemed to be a much-too-short display of concern that something might be broken, she calmly asked, “Sale barn or vet? Or should I call the neighbor for the backhoe?”
When I didn’t laugh, she did eventually help me up, then brought me some aspirin, and assisted me into bed. “Oh, I almost forgot,” she added, “Happy 60th birthday!”
Jerry Crownover farms in Lawrence County. He is a former professor of Agriculture Education at Missouri State University, and is an author and professional speaker. To contact Jerry, go to ozarksfn.com and click on 'Contact Us.'
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