God told us He wanted us to move here. So we held our breath and “jumped into the deep,” trusting Him to take care of everything. Somehow, I thought that was going to be the end of it; we’d settle in, start the farm out small (ish), and life would be different, with lots of hard work, but God wouldn’t present us with any other unexpected plans.
I was wrong. We jumped once, and apparently, He wants us to keep on “jumping.”
This is the story of the biggest jump we’ve made yet: acquiring a herd of cows. I’m still getting over the idea. 😀
Nathan had been checking craigslist in the area to keep an eye on cattle for sale, and lo and behold, a listing popped up – a herd of Red Devons was up for sale only 30 minutes away from us. Red Devon, by the way, was one of only two breeds Nathan had picked out for our farm prior to moving here. They do well being grass fed, and have the benefit of being good for meat or milk.
We went to go see the cows. Now, we know next to nothing about cattle. We don’t know what questions to ask or what signs to look for to tell whether it’s a good, healthy herd, or not so much. We hardly know what a good price for a cow, a bull, or a heifer is. But we went – and found out that the man who owned them goes to our new parish! He was selling his herd because he and his wife were getting older and it was time to start downsizing their responsibilities a bit.
The cows were beautiful, and I’ve always been partial to that particular reddish-brown color they have (says the girl who chose to learn to play the flute because it was shiny silver…). Not terribly good reasons to buy a cow… but as we left, we both wanted to buy the whole herd!
So of course, we prayed, asking St. Isidore to intercede for us.
We also asked the advice of a few local farmer/rancher friends, who both discouraged us from buying expensive cattle to start out (they were priced a little on the high end). Buy some cheap stocker cattle, start with only a few while you learn the ropes, make hay with your fields this year and sell it instead. That way, they said, you won’t lose too much if one of the cows happens to die on you.
But I think these new friends underestimated the level of commitment we have to getting this farm up and running, and the amount of time we would be spending with the animals. And my thought was, if a cow or two does die, wouldn’t it be better to have a herd that can replenish itself, rather than simply taking the loss and trying again next year?
Nathan took it to prayer; during his Eucharistic adoration, believing that “God’s word is living and effective,” he opened the Bible and laid his finger down on a verse. It happened to be the part of the story of the Prodigal Son where the father orders the slaughter of the fatted calf! Well, if we bought the herd, we were going to raise them for beef…maybe this was a green light?
Asking God to please intervene and not let the sale go through if it was not His will for us, we went ahead and told the owner we were seriously interested. Nothing happened during any of the proceedings finalizing the sale; instead, the owner generously threw in all kinds of extras: an old cattle trailer, electric fencing and energizers, a feeding trough, a stanchion, and three books on getting started with cattle. We are grateful to no end!
There were 14 head of cattle to be moved to our pastures: 9 bred cows (meaning they are pregnant), 2 heifers (females that have not yet had a calf), 2 young bulls (not yet mature, only about 6 months old), and 1 mature bull.
The process of moving was definitely a job. Nathan went to meet the owners at the ranch, and spent most of the day helping to round up cattle and load them into the trailer. It ended up taking four trips. The most difficult was not the bull, as we would have guessed, but the unhappy mommas who were separated from their calves temporarily. Since they were being so stubborn, I looked up who the patron saints of cattle are. There are a few, actually! I ended up begging the intercession of St. Eligius ( a former goldsmith/jeweler who had a miracle involving cows attributed to his prayers) and St. Perpetua (an early Roman Christian martyr who was killed in the Coloseum by a mad heifer). Our prayers were heard, and the mommas arrived – though one of them had so much difficulty getting out of the trailer once she arrived, we had to ‘tip’ her out by lifting up the front end of the trailer with the tractor.
The kids were incredibly excited, of course. “S” heard them moo for the first time, looked at me excitedly and said “Cow say ‘Moo!’ It can works!!” I guess when you teach them that ‘cows say moo’ from their earliest years, that would be the definition of a functional cow that comes to mind, I suppose!
And of course, Remy the Fearless was right in there with them, barking and telling them who was boss in no uncertain terms. I was surprised, the cows actually backed away from this bouncy, noisy little dog!
Since they’ve arrived, we’ve learned a lot more about cows. Not all bulls have horns, and cows can have horns. Actually, our bull, Red Bull, is without horns, and two of our cows do have them. One we call ‘Curly Top’ and she has the sweetest little calf we call “Blondie” because of her much lighter color than the rest. The other is named Penny, and one of her horns is a little twisted. The leader of the herd is not Red Bull, as one might imagine. It’s a big female named Tuesday – she gets the water when she wants it, butts others out of the way when we come around with alfalfa cube treats, and is the most vocal. Her pal, and the friendliest cow, is Gemmy, who loves her alfalfa cubes, too. We are still trying to distinguish the other cows from each other, as they don’t have such defining traits, and are less likely to approach us if the others are there first!
Life with cattle – to be continued…