Saturday, July 2, 2011

Out of the Oyster

In February of this year, we got a pearl out of an oyster. Yep, we brought another Guernsey cow home to Paradise from a commercial dairy. She fits right in here at the ranch and is a wonderful, if bossy, companion for our other milk cow, Dicey. And her name is Pearl.

We bought Pearl so that we could have fresh milk year-round. In order to achieve that, it's necessary to have two milk cows because one will always need to be dried up (stop giving milk) for several months before she has her new calf. In addition to that, I just love Guernsey cows. They're beautiful, friendly, full of personality and they're actually an endangered livestock breed. I'm very proud of my little Guernsey herd and happy to give them a wonderful home.

Dicey and Pearl have actually come to us from the same dairy. We're sure they would never want to return. To be truthful, we have a great deal of compassion for the dairyman who operates that dairy. He's an older man who loves his cows and is dedicated to his life as a dairyman. He has very little interest or help from his family and children and consequently his operation and animals suffer from neglect.

His operation is very typical of the vast majority of commercial dairies. Cows are kept in small pens and fed rations of grain and chopped hay. They are never far from the milk barn. They spend most of their day standing in manure while waiting to be milked.

Waiting to be milked

Pearl, like most dairy cows, spent her days standing on concrete floors covered in mud and manure. When she came to Paradise, she had mud and manure caked on her legs so heavily that we were afraid to remove it for fear of pulling off the hair and skin. Standing on hard concrete causes swelling at the top of the foot. Because Pearl spent 8 years in such an environment, her feet are permanently enlarged.

That's a lot of poop
Cows produce a LOT of manure every day. It's no wonder that cows kept in close quarters are not clean. And it's no wonder that their milk has to be not just pasteurized  but "ultra" pasteurized in order for it to be safe to drink.

"Can we be friends?"
This Jersey cow was one of Pearl's companions. Because milk cows have been bred for thousands of years to live in close proximity to humans, they are wonderfully social and curious. They love pats, treats, and interacting with people as well as other dairy cows. And because I live in a very remote area, Dicey, Pearl, and Spicy are my best girlfriends. I scratch their favorite itchy spots and in return get big, wet, smoochy kisses on my cheek.

Standing in line
What our Paradise cows and commercial cows have in common is that twice a day, every day for the entire time they are fresh, they need to be milked. Every 12 hours, our girls show up at the barn waiting for the relief that comes with an emptied udder. And every 12 hours, the commercial cows line up and wait their turns.

Done, for now
It takes about 20 minutes in the milk parlor and they're done. They know the routine well. They march out and return to the same filthy paddock where they will eat and wait for another 12 hours.

But our Pearl is out of the oyster.

Pearl on July 1, 2011

When Pearl first came to us, she habitually stood right near the barn all the time. She didn't know she could walk far and she'd never eaten hay that wasn't chopped up. Needless to say, this spring when we turned her out on pasture, it was a new experience for her. She had never eaten green grass.

For the first time in her life, Pearl now enjoys walking on green pasture and grazing among her friends all day. When it's hot, she lays under an apple tree in the shade. And when she's thirsty, she walks to the cool creek to get a drink. She's loving her life at Paradise.

But if you look real close, you'll see a little piece of the oyster. (She has a bump of a horn on the left side of her head.)

Thanks, Mia, for the beautiful and very fitting name.