Charlie Brown said, “Goodbyes always makes my throat hurt”. At this time of year, I’m pretty sure there are quite a few parents and students with that certain emotional tickle. I bring this topic up because by the time you read this, I will have said farewell to a group of teenagers who will nourish a community. Even a farmer can get choked up with saying goodbye.
This group of ladies has been on summer sabbatical frolicking in the pasture and learning about the nature of things. They were inquisitive and hungry for adventure with a boisterous side as they played pasture games like: Tic Tac Moo, Swishter, Cow-quet, Hide and go eat and Grass-hole. After a good game, they enjoyed some high quality protein and energy foods with long naps under the shade trees.
If you haven’t guessed by now, I’m saying a sad Arrivederci to a group of 40 dairy heifers who will be giving birth this fall and providing America with a vast array of dairy products.
As custom graziers, we work with other farmers who employ us seasonally, to provide their animals with nutritious grass, clovers, forbs and daily care. Over the past 20 years, we have taken in hundreds of “bovine exchange students” and taught them how to eat the funny green stuff, behave as a herd and become accustomed to fending for themselves. We formed relationships with cows and are hopeful they will always value their time here and remember us in some small way.
Many times these future matriarchs come from confinement, bunk-fed facilities and spend plenty of time on concrete. Keen dairy managers know time out in some lush pasture help tone muscles and build lung function. They place trust in us to transition individuals into a team. It takes patience, good husbandry skills, solid fences and a kind demeanor. I would say we are emotionally and physically invested.
We call, coax and sometimes beg for them to move to a new paddock or through a gate. They are stubbornly cautious and you can’t rush them. You have to let them learn. Day by day they gain more confidence and knowledge. In a month’s time, you have a transformed group who understand the system and seem to really enjoy a cow’s life. They try new flowers, leaves and browse. They love to scamper and run as children would. There is joy in the whole environment as a result.
On our grazing chart as with a college move-in day, there is a date of separation which looms heavy on the hearts. Tonight is that final grazing paddock before tomorrow’s journey back to their home farm. As the ladies settle in to eating, I can’t help but linger. The funny thing is they sensed I needed some comforting. I owe these animals a tremendous amount of respect for turning sunshine and grass into healthy soil and dairy products to feed a hungry planet.
They surrounded me and looked for a scratch on the head in paying homage for my sincere husbandry. Caring for stock in a compassionate way all the way through to the loading ramp is frankly worth it in terms of being a good farmer. I shed a tear every year over every load of cattle leaving our care. The sheer appreciation of these animals nourishing a country and me giving them the best natural life possible chokes me up.
At the moment when the truck will roll out of site, I wonder how God will perceive my stewardship. For someday, I will say goodbye and return to the earth and leave my lasting footprint upon the grass.
“So this is it, I say goodbye; to this chapter of my ever-changing life”
~ Aaron Lewis