Good memories and broken hearts


“Oh, if I had a dime for each time I had to soothe a child in the aftermath of the loss of a pet on this farm. Our soil has been saturated with the tears of loss over our years of raising children and all of their pets, some domesticated, some wild, some solely intended for the brief life of farm animals.”

– Rachel Peden, 1954

Within the fences of a farm lies endless possibilities for good memories and broken hearts.

Just a few days ago, I stumbled across a bit of information that sure would have come in handy a long time ago, powerful knowledge that could have staved off a few broken hearts for a time.

As I was thumbing through the magazine Mother Earth News, this headline nearly jumped off the page toward me: “In Praise of Older Cows.”

In part it read, “Older dairy cows produce more cancer-fighting conjugated linoleic acid than younger cows, according to Professor Tilak Dhiman of Utah State University.”

It said a cow that has gone through four lactations produces more CLA than younger cows.

“In confinement dairies, the typical cow is slaughtered after only two lactations – another reason the milk you buy in the supermarket is relatively low in this beneficial fatty acid,” it read.

As I was reading, my eyes landed on the final statement of the article, and the little kid in me wanted to jump up and down.

“Grass-fed cattle can remain healthy and productive for as long as 13 lactations.”

Life-altering words. This could have proven to be potentially life-altering information, if only I had possessed it, say, 30 years ago.

Dad always tried to break it to us gently, but the news that one of our favorite cows would soon be taking a trip sometimes seemed impossible to accept. I can still hear myself, irrational as all get out, saying “Why can’t you ship Kris instead? She’s mean and nasty and nobody likes her!”

My sister Deb had several favorites, and fortunately, she was easily led down the primrose path when that fateful day came.

“Dad said she’s going to a really nice farm where she’ll be the family cow – probably their only cow, so they’ll treat her especially nice.”

Though I was three years younger, I was not so easily convinced of “happily ever after” stories. I knew that a ticket out of there on Cliff Fulk’s livestock truck was surely a one-way ticket to doom for our dearly beloved Holsteins.

Never far apart. One cow I called “Doc” was always the first one in the parlor with her pal “Alice” right behind her. They would stand side-by-side in the parlor, and they were never far apart out in the free stalls or the feed lot.

I convinced Dad to give Doc a bit more time to breed back, but as her milk production leveled out to almost nothing, I knew I didn’t have much of a leg to stand on. It was a sad day when Doc wasn’t right there, wanting to be the first one out of the holding pen.

Alice moped. She was lost without her buddy. One day, I went to get the cows in for the evening milking, and Alice didn’t come. I found her in a free stall, dead.

I was sure she had died of a broken heart. And I thought I might.

The only good thing about losing a pet on a farm is this: there are others waiting to endear themselves to you. A child’s broken heart heals pretty quickly, simply from knowing there are others waiting in the wings who need a kid’s gentle touch.


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Judith Sutherland, born and raised on an Ohio family dairy farm, now lives on a 70-acre farm not far from the area where her father’s family settled in the 1850s. Appreciating the tranquility of rural life, Sutherland enjoys sharing a view of her world through writing. Other interests include teaching, reading, training dogs and raising puppies. She and her husband have two children, a son and a daughter, and three grandchildren.