Yesterday, my husband came into the house after he finished milking as he sometimes does to get something to eat and said, “You’ll have to say your goodbyes to Liesel.” Liesel (pronounced “Lee-sell” as I found out after I started calling “Leezl” like diesel fuel) was one of my jersey cows. So I said okay, put my boots on and headed to the barn.
As I walked down there, I noticed what a beautiful day it was. It was really bright out as the sun was out and against the snow it made you feel like you were walking in a dream almost. It wasn’t too cold, but crisp, and you could feel the freshness in your lungs as you breathed in. Altogether it made you feel that much more awake and I thought to myself, “you know, it’s a good day to put the old girl down.”
Truth be told, Liesel wasn’t really all that old as far as cows go. She was 7 1/2. The problem was she somehow developed arthritis in her hips which made it difficult for her to get her 1400 pound frame up and down. Despite all the aspirin we gave her to help with the pain, she wasn’t getting any better and only began to get worse.
She was a bigger jersey, not exceptionally tall but boy could that cow eat!! Some cows sort their feed and pick out the things they want to eat first and then maybe eat what’s left, (we feed a “TMR” – total mixed ration that contains grass silage, grain, corn, minerals, etc.) Not Liesel, she was like a vacuum, usually exhaling the feed in front of her. When she was big with calf, she was as wide as a house. I used to marvel at it and wonder if we had the right calving or due date for her. I now know a little about how it feels to be as big as a house when you’re carrying a baby!
I showed her when she was younger and in fact she was grand champion at the Woodstock Fair one year. Unfortunately that was the same year we were involved in a barn accident that involved a really mad loose Mama Simental cow trying to get back to her baby. That cow didn’t care what was in her path, including Liesel and a few of our other cows as she stepped on them while they were laying down. Our girls and the people involved ended up being okay but the cow and her calf went right home after that to avoid another accident. The folks who had them weren’t experienced in showing cattle and didn’t realize how crazy a beef cow will get when separated from her calf if it’s not weaned. Regardless, it was a crazy experience and we were lucky no one including the cows was hurt.
People say that putting an animal down is one of the most humane things you can do for it. Even though I’ve been through it several times before, it doesn’t get easier. When I got to the barn that beautiful morning, I scraped down behind the girls, pushed up their feed so they could reach it a bit easier and then took some time to scratch Liesel’s head, behind her ears and under her muzzle. I said my goodbyes and told her how she was going to a better place and she wouldn’t be in pain anymore. I felt kind of silly, like a little 4-Her still, as even now tears well up as I write this. Her dam (mama-cow) was the first cow I bought as an adult. Her first calf was the first I delivered by myself. I never particularly cared for broken-colored jerseys until she came along. She’s always been a good worker and pleasant in the barn. So the last thing I said to Liesel was simply, “thank you.”