by Jill W.
This is the story about my sweet little Jersey cow Pearl, how she came to be with me and how she touched the lives of so many people. It’s a bit long winded, and has some side shoots, but I just couldn’t seem to make it any shorter.
First a little background about me and how this story began. When I was eight, my family started a trail riding business operating from a beautiful farm that we managed in the Blenkinsop Valley. I was in my glory with 7 horses, sheep, pigs, goats, ducks, geese, rabbits, a couple beef cows and chickens.
The farm was 21 acres of awesome childhood memories. But the 21 acres wasn’t my boundary line and I soon found the neighbouring farm behind us where the lady had the biggest pigs I have ever seen to this day, and 2 beautiful Jersey cows. Because I was a rather exuberant, independent and relentless 8-year-old, this is where I milked my first cow. Being sent home with a big jar of fresh raw milk that I had milked myself from a live cow was about the best thing ever. My mom showed me how to take a big spoonful of cream off the top (just like she did when she was a kid and you could do that with all the milk that came to the door.). I knew then one day, I would have my own cow.
So to skip ahead 30 some years…….
Quite a few of my farm stories start with “I went to buy a chicken…” and end up with me coming home with other much larger farm animals. One sunny spring afternoon I went to buy some heritage chickens from a gal in the neighbouring community. While catching and loading the chickens I spotted a beautiful sweet Jersey cow. I hadn’t seen one like her since I was a kid, as pretty much all the farms have Holsteins if they are dairy, or Herefords and Angus for beef. I love all cows but sorry, I am a total sucker for those big brown Jersey eyes.
So we got to chatting and before the chickens were loaded, I was cutting a cheque for my first Share in a cow. I was so excited I felt like I was 8 again. Well, pretty soon I was helping milk and my Share just wasn’t enough, I needed more to make Cheese! That was the agreement with hubby. I make cheese and getting a cow is all good. So my new found farmy friend and I started the hunt to find a nice cow for me.
Now, just another wee bit of pre-cow story that is relevant later. A few months before my cow hunt began I was fortunate enough to do be able to spend a few days at a wonderful small artisan cheese making company where all the milk comes from their own herd on site. An experience I would recommend to everyone to be able to appreciate all that goes into cheese and taking care of cows. Not to mention how much milk it takes to make cheese. It’s astounding.
Back to the story…
After talking with several people about several different cows I was almost ready to purchase one, even though I didn’t feel 100% about it. I just put it down to “First Cow” jitters. Then another ad came up which my friend called. I had this amazing strong feeling about it. But the cow was sold. A day went by and I said to my friend, maybe we should call just in case it falls through? She agreed and said she would call later.
Well, the next morning her phone rang and it was the lady selling the cow and she said the person never showed up to get the cow. She was ours if we wanted to come see her. My friend phoned me and we were headed out the next morning on our road trip. The feeling about this cow was so strong. Our “quick” road trip cow pick up however was anything but. It was filled with crazy mishaps and weird incidents which are stories all on their own. A 6 hr round trip turned into more like 12hrs and even then it wasn’t over.
After many delays, we got to the little farm. Before the truck was in park I was out the door and headed to the barn where I could hear her mooing. Now my farmy friend’s cow is a big jersey so I wasn’t expecting to look *over* the stall to see my new bovine acquisition. But there she was with these huge big, kinda bulgy, eyes that had little clouds in them and big ears that pinned forward like a bat. And she was tiny. She mooed softly at me and gripped my heart like nothing else and I cried a little. That may sound weird but it was like finding a very old dear friend you’ve been missing forever. I can’t even really explain it, we just connected on some other cosmic level.
So I paid for her and we loaded up as fast as we could as we were really running behind and the trip home required catching a ferry. Half way home we connected with another cow person, who was my friend’s friend, and decided to drop her off at her barn for the night. Poor girl had already been in the trailer 3 hours and she needed to be milked too. So we unloaded her, milked and started to brush her up a bit as it was winter and muddy and she was looking a little dishevelled. Now this little cow was sold to me as an unregistered backyard jersey as that was what the previous owner had also purchased her as.
While cleaning her up my friend and I both realized we had transported her without checking for tags. That’s a big No-No. Livestock is supposed to be tagged so it can be tracked for disease purposes. Big fine if we had been caught by the…livestock police… or whomever checks those things…. So the gal where my new little caramel companion was bedding down for the night was a long time cow enthusiast and asked if we had checked her ears for tattoos. That never occurred to us so we got to work at scrubbing out her cute big bat ears. Low and behold…..Tattoos! Very cool as this meant we could track where she came from as the tattoos would most likely be registered.
We were exhausted though so after finishing up we jumped in the truck to head home and we would pick her up again in a day. On the way home, my friend’s cell phone rang and there was news for us! Jane, we’ll call her, had looked up the tattoo and gave us the farm name where my little cow had come from. I am a firm believer in fate and serendipity. My little cow was from the very same farm I had done the cheese apprenticeship at!!! And her given name at birth was Pearl. When I bought her, her names they called her were Moofasa or Mum, neither of which I thought fit, but Pearl was perfect. She surely was my little Pearl.
The next day I contacted my friends at the cheese company just to confirm and they were so happy she had been found. Turns out she was a wee runt when she was born, just 35 lbs. or so. They had sold her as a young heifer to someone who bounced the cheque, drove away, and was not traceable. There are some unkind people in the world. Pearl was also 90% blind when I got her but her hearing was perfect. And she had a sense of smell that probably worked better than her eyes ever did. She could hone in on a carrot or apple from 20 paces. The vet figured she was likely not well cared for when she was young and a bad case of Pink eye took her vision. So sad as $5.00 in medication and some preventative fly spray or mask would have cured the problem.
So there are about 3 yrs. of Pearl life I know nothing about. What I do know is her 3 years with me changed my life forever. And I can safely say she touched the lives of many, many more people. She was so sweet and gentle, kids could be all over her and she just lapped it up. She instantly made individuals who had never been around a cow before just relax and feel grounded. Anytime I was feeling sad, angry, or just out of sorts, 5 minutes brushing her and all was right with the world again.
This last year Pearl injured herself out in the field. The best I could tell was she slipped getting up and tore her cruciate ligament. That’s really bad because for a cow, there is no kicking back in bed and taking the weight off. The only thing they can do is lay down, and then, they HAVE to get up every three hours minimum so there guts and rumen operate properly. So the first two nights, I camped out with her in a car tent we put up as she could not get to the barn. I had to make sure she was getting up every three hours, but usually it was her warm wet nose in my ear that would wake me up before my alarm sounded.
The biggest problem was Pearl was pregnant. She was too far along to abort safely and I had reassurance from 3 vets that the injury should not affect her ability to calve. The only other option was to euthanize her. So I waited and monitored and she was so resilient. She never stopped eating and she had free run of the farm, moving when and where she wanted, as she wanted. The key was to make sure she did move as much as she could, rather like physiotherapy. She also had massage therapy, acupressure treatments, cold therapy, holistic and western medicines, you name it. She was actually very happy and just acted like her same sweet self. The one dark thing I knew though was I needed to be ready to do a Caesarian section at calving time. That posed all kinds of problems.
When it came time for calving, things did not go so well. I knew her labour was starting and I did all my prep stuff getting towels handy, loading the calcium drencher, sanitizing a calf bubba, buckets for warm water, etc.. Her labour did not progress as it should have, taking much to long. I hunkered down in her hay trough with her for what was a very long hard night. She would come and rest her head on me and moo very softly. I called one of my old students in the wee hours of the morning who had become a vet. A horse vet, but she had worked on cattle farms during her schooling and said she would help me if I needed. For anyone who is reading this, anywhere in the world, LOVE your local large animal vet! I mean REALLY appreciate them, bake them goodies and pay your bills on time so they keep being a good vet. In the very rural community I live in, we have three vet hospitals, and not one does farm animals. The reason I am told is not enough money to be worth it to have to leave the office for farm calls. So, I am very thankful for my experience of the past of working and running a stable and having to do all kinds of Vet stuff with horses. All the basic skills carry forward to the cows and other critters. Even the chickens. So for the most part, I am my own vet. I am lucky to have the vets close by who are friends who can help me get supplies as needed but if I need a vet who sees ‘cow’ stuff regularly, I have to load and trailer a sick cow on a three hour trip. It is almost impossible and inhumane to load a sick cow. So … LOVE your large animal vet and inspire them to keep practising so the animals that nurture us have emergency care. And if you know some bright young spark who’s going to go to vet school, encourage them to do large animals too, not just cats, dogs, and rodents. Farm animals need care too.
Sorry for going off on a tangent, back to the story.
Pearls labour went on for a long time and then finally it looked like we were going to meet baby. But it didn’t happen. There was something very wrong and malformed with babe and no matter how we tried to reposition the calf it just would not clear the birth canal. There was something very wrong with the formation of the calves head and neck. The best guess is from Pearl spending so much time laying down, the babe formed incorrectly. The second option was to do a Caesarian, but the problem with that was the ligament injury and Pearls lack of strength to get up after being in labour for so long already. And the vet said also by that time the babe was in distress, and malformed, that it’s prognoses was not good. Pearl was much to weak to stand, and if we cut the muscles to get baby out, there would be no way she could handle getting up again anytime soon.
So, I sat with Pearl, her head in my lap, and held her as the vet helped her move on to a nice lush pasture with her babe at her side. They rest under her favourite tree in her favourite spot in the back field. It was one of the hardest times of my life. I had a very deep and special connection with that little cow and I will cherish her memory and all that she taught me forever. I am also blessed to have Blossom, her first calf with me. She has the same temperament as her mom, and same facial markings, but she is much bigger and very beautiful. She is my big princess.
Pearl was a cow that through her sweet nature and bountiful gifts, brought people together from all walks of life. She was a little cow that reconnected people with the food that sustains them. They got to love her and pet her, give her treats and praise for her for all she shared with them. Putting a face and a personality to your glass of milk creates a relationship and reconnection that has been lost in this time. It opens the door for people to wake up from the consumer fog and remember milk comes from cows, not a carton. They are beautiful loving animals that should be treated with a great deal of respect and the very best animal husbandry practices. All animals should. Especially those who nurture us and our appetites. Pearl changed people’s lives, educated them, and they in turn have passed that knowledge on to others. I like to think of her as one little cow who changed the world for the better, one family at a time. She certainly changed my world. Doors of knowledge have opened in my life I did not know were closed and through her I have met some really incredible wonderful people. Deciding to buy a cow was one of the best decisions I have ever made in my life so far.
So that is my long winded story about my life with Pearl. I hope one day I will write a much longer story about her daughter Blossom, many, many, many moons from now.
My sweet Pearly noodle. I miss your face in the barn so much and I thank you for all your blessings.
You taught me so much, my little cow with the heart of a lion.