Like humans I guess, sometimes a cow comes along and you know there will be another cow like her. It’s not just that she’s special in terms of her personality or appearance, it’s the combination of everything that can be good about a cow – production, conformation, temperament, possession of good old common sense.
For us, our 16 year old Lucy is that cow in our lives. And at 16, she is getting on and it is time for us to make some decisions.
If you’ve read my book Till the Cows Come Home or follow me on Instagram / Twitter, you’ll have heard about Lucy before. She was 13 when I wrote the memoir and as a matriarch in the herd who doesn’t stand for any nonsense, she has been a firm favourite for many years. 16 now and having had her 15th calf, we firmly believe that we will never have another cow like her.
So, what is it about Lucy that makes her so special:
- She is calm. Nothing ever bothers her. She doesn’t rush, she stands back and lets the world sail by. At this late stage in life, she is usually in the last row to be milked. Yet, if a cow is hesitant to be the first in a row, Lucy will wait a moment and then lead the cows in. There was one milking recently when Brian forgot to shut the front gate but Lucy stood there as if the gate was shut. We’re not sure if she wanted her nuts or knew that she would have to walk all the way around again if she went through without being milked. It’s quite often that a mature and dependable cow is worth her weight in gold. Well, not quite as they are heavy but you know what I mean.
- Two of her calves have become AI bulls in Dovea genetics. The first was Lucifer, way back in 2011 if I remember correctly. The second is Garrendenny Lewis, born in 2020 and in this year’s catalogue. We were like proud parents when we got the news. The extra money is an obvious bonus and was put towards the new-to-us tractor but it’s just lovely to know her breeding will continue in herds all over the country. I did tell her and I’m pretty sure she was pleased too.
- In 2018, we got a certificate to show that she has provided us (and Glanbia) with over 3000 kgs of milk protein, quite the achievement. Not sure what her total is now.
- She doesn’t bully yet won’t be pushed around. This year, she was in the straw bedded calving shed for a few weeks before her due date (to give her additional comfort) and one day, five heavily pregnant cows were let in. We knew one to be a fiesty matriarch and sure enough, she headed over to Lucy to try and assert her dominance. Lucy jumped to her feet as the other cow pawed the straw and then headbutted her. This went on for a few minutes but thankfully, Lucy won out. I’d have hated to have seen her weakened due to age.
- Because of her age, she does get some special treatment but it seems to irritate her sometimes. Some of our fields are half an hour’s walk so she, along with one or two lame or older cows, will be put into a nearby field to graze. Last year, she bellowed in protest until she settled. This year, she is accepting of it and seems happy enough. In early December, we dried her off a bit earlier to give her a longer rest and put her in a shed (with others) in the top yard so she could have the comfort of lying on straw. Everytime she saw Brian, she bellowed at him. She wanted to be working.
- She is still milking well. She gave 19 litres this morning (enough to feed six calves).
What will happen to Lucy?
We got the vet to assess her after calving and he agreed with our thoughts. She is still a strong cow but at that age, could have a heart attack e.g. before or after calving. The white skin on her back is showing a few signs of sun damage, it’s not affecting her health but we need to be applying sunblock.
The norm in farming, when cows cease production, is to fatten the cows and send them to the factory. Given Lucy’s intelligence and age, we want her to have a peaceful end so we asked about euthanasia by lethal injection, if it is possible for an animal that size (we don’t want her killed by a gun). Now, some will see that as a waste of meat, others as a waste of money (you’re probably talking about €1000-€1200 between the value of her meat, vet call out and knacker removal). However, I was pleasantly surprised to hear that this is a more common occurrence than you might think, that he has had farmers call him out saying ‘she doesn’t owe me anything’. The image of the gruff hard-hearted farmer is not accurate although many may not admit to it. Good to know isn’t it?
Why don’t we let her retire? Dry her off and put her out to grass? Because she loves being part of the milking herd. She is not the type of cow to be happy in a field with some beef heifers. She is a working cow and would be discontented being put out to grass.
Lucy will not suffer. Whenever her time comes, if her quality of life is compromised in any way, the vet will be called. And the good news is that the vet is often here within half an hour of the call (I often say I’d prefer to take my chances with the vet than go to A & E).
I wish I could plan for my own old age like I can for my cows. I would much prefer to know that I can be put to sleep by lethal injection when my quality of life has decreased than face a nursing home for example. My daughter is under instruction to book me a one way ticket to Switzerland if the law doesn’t change here. But maybe things will change. And you never know, I might be lucky enough to come back as a cow or a farm dog.
And in the meantime, we can look forward to Lucy having another calf next year (Dovea want to do a planned mating but if I’m honest, I’m hoping for a heifer calf) and as we have 20 straws from Lewis this year, we’ll have some of his calves next year too. Farming may be a busy life, it’s certainly never dull and there is always something to look forward to.