Losing Doris, the queen, for good

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Dorset sheep

Doris the Dorset has reached the end of the road.

There will be no more surprise visits, looking out the window to see the Dorset sheep wandering up my sidewalk. No more belly laughs upon seeing Doug fixing the spot where she surely escaped, at the very moment she shows up beside him, on his side of the fence.

She conquered every single pen, every pasture, every gate.

When Doug called her “that dumb sheep,” I reminded him she sure didn’t look so dumb to me.

Shearing Doris recently revealed an udder filled with numerous lumps, immobile and of various sizes. There was no way to spin this into anything good. I’ve tried and triumphed before, but I knew better this time.

A perfect mama to not only her lambs, but to all, Doris was the queen bee. The flock leader, especially when grain or hay was involved, she surely knew how to make me laugh.

Never easy

Why does this day have to come? And why sooner for the good ones than the ones who can be mean as dirt?

Dad once bought a calf from the Keets family when my sister Debi showed every indication she would work hard at making a 4-H show champion. The nose of the young calf was all pink with black dots so perfectly placed it seemed as though Mr. Keets himself had painted them on, so instantly the calf was named Freckles.

Freckles wore the best halter Debi could find, my big sister leading her on long walks every day. That heifer charmed us all with her sweet disposition.

Though she did indeed do very well in the show ring, it no longer mattered if the trophy was awarded, because Freckles was a star.

As a milk cow, she first delivered a bull calf, to our disappointment. There’s always next time for a heifer calf, we said. Freckles was first in the milking parlor, where she wished to linger, never having learned she was part of a herd. She was sleek and shiny and showy, so what if a little bit of extra patience in moving her along was required?

She did not breed back the first time. Nor the second. She finally showed a positive in the herd pregnancy check. All of us, including our dad, breathed a sigh of relief, for the sake of my sister who loved that sweet cow.

There were problems with the delivery. The calf (of course a beautiful little heifer) didn’t make it. Mastitis in one quarter would clear up, only to show up again in a couple of weeks. It became clear Freckles was not going to breed back.

My sister insists the sweet Holstein was taken to a wonderful Amish family, allowed to roam with no fences to hold her, the children riding her like a young pony. Freckles is forever young and sleek and shiny.

Goodbye

The night before Doris was about to take that trip, I went to say my goodbyes. Through all of her escapes, all we had to do was call her name and she would come, easily following us back through the pasture gate. She enjoyed busting out, and only once a day.

I scratched her forehead.

“Doris, there will be a truck coming to take you for a ride in the morning. I sure am gonna miss you.”

Doris looked me in the eye, and I could have sworn she was trying to tell me something.

The next morning, as the truck left our farm, it suddenly became clear: I bet she still had a few tricks up her woolly sleeve. I was cheering for her Houdini greatness to soldier on, busting out at the first stop sign when no one was looking.

And now, I figure, Freckles has a pal on that lovely farm with no fences for Doris to fuss about.

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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, in college.

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