On March 13, 2003, a lovely heifer was born to a mother who was much too old to have been bred, a cow in a group we had just acquired.  For at least 2 weeks, her mother, Goldie, was kept in the loafing shed in bedding, mostly unable to stand.  The new heifer was a tawny-frosted dark girl with lovely eyes, named easily:  Mocha.  One of the red Angus cows was brought up with her new baby so the new heifer was not in social isolation.  As she grew stronger, we put Goldie and Mocha in the pasture with the rest of the herd.  Goldie was unable to make the journey across the west pasture, and Mocha wanted to go with the rest of the calves.  She was a very smart girl and would stay with the herd rather than venturing across unaccompanied, so by late afternoon each day, I would walk across the pasture to look for Mocha.  When she saw me, she would come running and I would escort her back to her mom for dinner and for the night.

After Mocha was weaned, Goldie became our first retiree.  As with most mammals, the adults and seniors lend toward the upbringing of the young ones.  Goldie was a little beyond “active parenting”, but she was a good influence as a babysitter.  She enjoyed her time in retirement, and began to demonstrate unexpected personality.  As she fit into her new role, she learned how to tell us when she needed something by looking directly at us until we figured it out.  This involved a limited range of communications – water, salt, food, but understanding a communication is rewarding.  Goldie was also a very smart girl, capable of figuring things out, following the “where there’s a will, there’s a way” principle.  There were a few times when I thought she was having a seizure, throwing her head into the air in different directions while she was lying down.  Finally, I realized that she was scratching her belly.

Mocha grew into a large, beautiful shiny black cow, but she always knew I was talking to Her when I said “Baby Girl”.  She had her first calf in the north part of the spring pasture, and I was there with her, keeping a distance to allow her some privacy and being ready in case assistance was needed.  When the baby was born, she went straight to motherhood, cleaning and grooming her newborn, who from that moment was “Rosa”.  Over the years, when the herd was brought up for worming or vaccinations, I would talk to her and pet her.  Cows generally don’t like being touched, but she was calm with my presence and enjoyed the attention, and she didn’t mind being patted on her shoulders, back or rump.  She was tolerant, even gracious, with my human-ness.  When I saw her in the pasture, or I caught her spotting me, I would ask how my “Baby Girl” was doing.  She knew her name, “Mocha”, and would respond and sometimes answer when called, and she had a voice like a foghorn.  But she also knew she was “Baby Girl,” and that the person who talked to her with this name was someone who looked out for her, for all of her life.

There was one time last fall when I was reminded of some training provided by Temple Grandin, that cows have an innate fear of two colors:  violet and yellow.  Even though she was my “baby girl”, wearing a loud yellow coat while we moved the cows from the working pen to the east pasture in the rain, she spotted me as a threat and was fearful.  That thread of survival instinct was strong, and no amount of acquired trust would supercede it.

She had her last calf in 2018.  Our herd tends to have good longevity.  At this point, she was beginning to slow down, and she moved into the retiree role.  Her mother had died at about 25 from slipping down an embankment on a creek after a deep snow.  There was one other retiree at that time, another particularly memorable cow, who reached approximately 21, who died a year or two later, leaving Mocha in the role of Grande Dame.  Two years ago, Rosa joined her mother as the next retiree.

It is the role of the newcomer to groom the senior, and as the senior advances to lower stages of wellness, they request grooming more often.  It became apparent last year that Mocha was following down this path.  The especially cold weather in February didn’t help.  After a lot of struggle, it was clear that the best last thing I could do for Mocha was to release her, before the advance of her decline left her with more chronic pain and suffering, or before she had an urgent need for relief when there wasn’t help immediately available.  Aging, at a certain point, is not a condition from which we can recover, and for her sake, I made this decision with her best interest at heart.

We brought her up to the chute, where the veterinarian administered a dose of anaesthetic to allow us to move her out of the chute where he could euthanize.  She began to stagger quickly, so we opened the headgate and let her step out.  She stumbled and stopped walking, but wasn’t far enough away from the chute yet.  I kept stroking her neck and walked along in front of her.  When I asked, she made the effort to take a few more steps.  After so many years, she still responded to me with trust when I talked to her and called her my Baby Girl.  She went down on her knees but kept her back legs up.  She clearly had her mother’s will to live.  The anaesthetic, given at much higher than a dose that would be used for surgery, didn’t cause her to lie down.  I kept stroking her cheek and talking to her, and she would relax.  When someone else tried to get her to lie down, her resistance would kick in.  Eventually, Greg maneuvered her rear to get her to lie down.  I kept talking to her, hoping to ease her stress.  The veterinarian administered the euthanasia injection.  She became quiet.

When you need to move one cow, it is best to move the group, then separate the one.  The other cows were still in the adjacent pen, and one was upset.  She typically senses a bad situation, as her mother did, and is otherwise calm.  After Mocha passed, the cows were quiet again.  A neighbor was here to bury her on the hillside in the east pasture.

It is a privilege to earn trust, and any trust earned should be honored and maintained.  I would not want to wrestle with the pain of failing her, but any passage of those who have shared a bond is also painful.

The world will be the same but different.

Digiprove sealCopyright secured by Digiprove © 2021
This entry was posted in Final Departures (Loss) and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply