kragore: (Raven)
[personal profile] kragore

Over the weekend, my sister and I had a very difficult decision to make.

One of the middle aged cows, Lizzie, had bad back feet. Through no fault of her own she inherited the trait that a lot of dairy cows have - their toes (technical term: claws) get over gown and force them to walk back on their heels. This doesn't happen as often in beef cattle, mostly because they are moving a lot more, so the foot wears. The over growth can cause varying degrees of discomfort. There are ways to correct this - trim their claws often, and correctively trim - it's very similar to correctively shoeing a horse, but with less shoe.
Lizzie grew to be one of our bigger cows, and this didn't help her condition. The huge land-cruiser style Hereford that is so popular on the plains doesn't fly real well in the hilly ruddy Berkshires.
In the case of big dairies, there are people who specialize in trimming cow's feet. Those cows get used to people handling them in this manner often. There's huge contraptions to immobilize a cow, flip her on her side exposing all four feet so you can do your work, and then right her again, sending her on her merry way.
But we are not a big dairy. Or even a middling beef operation.

Her feet grew increasingly worse until she could only stand for a little while, and then lay down for 4-5x as long. This is very bad for cows. They digest better standing up. If they lay down for too long, the circulation can be cut off to their legs, (a "downed cow") and getting them back up and moving again can be a herculean task. Pins and needles are no laughing matter for a cow. Trying to go up to her and work on her feet was met with significant resistance and a lot stress.

So the choice was:
1 - Pay a vet a lot of money to come out, shoot her full of drugs, and try to treat the symptoms of what was going to be a chronic problem that would likely be passed on to her future offspring, or
2 - call the knacker.

If we went with option 1, and she didn't improve, and pretty quickly, we were afraid we were going to have 1600lbs of medicated, inedible beef to try to dispose of. Even if she did improve, we don't have the facilities to maintain what would amount to a special needs cow.
If we went with options 2, we admitted a loss on one of our breeding stock with strong bloodlines, who was actually a really good mother cow, for all she didn't much care for humans, who has a calf close to weaning. It's also absolutely not the time of year you want to be butchering. But we would gain a solid source of income for the farm that is always skipping merrily along the edge of red.

But at the root of all our discussions was the fact - she was suffering.
It went against all the farming ethics we have to prolong her pain.

So my sister called Greg the Butcher, and he came out immediately the next day, at 5:30 am. With her face stuffed in a big bucket of sweet feed, Lizzie suffered no more.
1600lb live weight, she dressed out to 950 hang weight, she'll probably come in around 700 lbs dressed weight, if I had to guess. According to Greg, it's well marbled and as nice as some of the best grade A he's ever seen.
A testament to us trying to treat our cattle well.

The in-laws are taking their half. Mom is keeping a quarter for the house, and if the long standing family friends pass on the 4th quarter, I'll have some meat to sell.

In the mean time, Edgar, one of the most robust calves we had this spring, is standing alone in the field in a pounding storm tonight, bawling for his momma. And the human family is in tears knowing that it had to be this way, and that all calves wean, and they all carry on, and we're just assigning human emotions to the hard reality of the real world. Bambi in our own back yard.

Calves die. Predators eat your chickens. It rains on your hay. AI doesn't take. The grass doesn't grow right in the pastures. Cows get bad feet and have to become beef before their time.

Sometimes farming sucks.

Thank you Lizzie.
Thank you for nourishing my family and friends.
Thank you for bearing us a healthy calf.
I wish we could have done better by you.
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