This is a very sad story. If you cried when Ol’ Yeller died, you will cry with
this one. You might ask me why I would write such a sad story, and the answer
is, “I don’t know.” Most of the things that I write about farm life are happy
things, because farming is a happy life for me. However, we have had a couple
of sad things also happen this summer. Unfortunately, this is also part of farm
It had been
a hard year for our old cow Cora. I do not actually know how old she was. I
bought her only about four years ago, but she was obviously very old even then.
The shoulders of her front legs stuck out unnaturally, and had the look of
being affected by a type of bovine arthritis. But it was not arthritis, and her ungainly look did not seem to give her any
pain. It certainly did not inhibit her movement in any way.
Some of the
pastures of our farm are on very steep hillsides, and when I would call the
cows to follow me as I opened up a new paddock, Cora would come running down
the hill like an adolescent, often being the first one at the gate. I used to
warn her after watching her run down a steep slope, “Be careful old girl, you’re
going to end up falling and breaking something.”
being my oldest cow and despite her awkward appearance, I thought that she was
the most beautiful cow that I had. She had long graceful horns that grew out of
a forehead that was covered with long, light red, kind of frizzy hair. In the
winter, the hair falling in front of her face fairly covered her eyes. I
sometimes wondered how she could see. But see she did, and looking into a field
of wind-driven snow never seemed to bother her.
She was old,
yes, but it was not her health this year that had been the difficult thing for
her. To tell you about what I think led to her eventual death, I need to go
back to the month of July. It was in July that her last calf was born. This is
very late in the year to have a calf, but Cora was at the stage of life that
breeding was perhaps getting a little unpredictable. But in July, at a time
when all the other calves on our farm had been running and skipping around the
fields for some time, Cora gave birth to a little heifer.
I was extremely
happy to see this little heifer, whom we
immediately called “Corabelle.” Up until Corabelle was born, I had only gotten
bull calves from Cora. Ever since I had bought her, I had been hoping for a heifer
so that I could keep her line going. I don’t know why. I just liked Cora. We
were all happy to see little Corabelle.
a week and a half after Corabelle was born, disaster struck. The disaster came one
night in the form of several coyotes that attacked and killed the little calf
as it lie sleeping. As you might imagine, this event pained me considerably,
but even more so Cora (this is a separate story. You can read it at http://www.donaldrhody.com/2015/07/corabelles-death-in-wild.html ).
It is a difficult
thing to read grief on the face of a cow. Sometimes I thought that I must be
reading my own regrets into the mind of Cora, but I would occasionally see Cora
on the hill, seemingly looking at the other calves running around. “What must
she be thinking?” I thought to myself. “Surely she must remember.”
spring, I was not sure of my plans for Cora for later in the autumn. I knew she
was very old, but I did want that little heifer from her. One of the things that
I was thinking was that if she were to have a heifer this year, I may ship her
to market later in the fall. I think that is what a good herdsman would have
done. There could be no profit left in Cora in the future.
when she did have little Corabelle, my plans changed. I told my wife Vivian, “I
think I am going to just let Cora live out her days here on the farm and allow
her to die a natural death. I cannot think of sending her to market.”
that the longer that I am in this business, the less of a herdsman I am
Corabelle was killed. But despite what I thought might be Cora’s sorrow, after the
loss of her calf, Cora seemed to be doing pretty well physically. As a matter
of fact, it was only a couple of weeks ago that I looked at how she had filled
out. She looked sleek and fit. At one time during the summer I wondered if she
would be able to make it through another one of our harsh, Wisconsin winters,
but after looking at her that day, I thought that she would have no trouble.
But in the
end, it was not the cold that got her, it was the heat.
September, we have been having unusually hot weather for this time of year.
Temperatures in the high 80’s with humidity that exceeded even that. Our cows
have already begun to grow their winter hair, and it has been very hard on
them. Four or five days ago, I watched as the cows climbed the hill after getting
a drink at the pond. They were moving pretty slowly. Then I noticed that Cora
was not among them.
concerned, I went to look for her. I finally found her standing in the shade in the valley,
but panting rather hard. I actually was not bothered about it much at the time.
Cora always panted in the summer. Vivian and I used to joke about it. As soon
as the thermometer reached 70, Cora would start to pant. “It’s too hot for
Cora,” we would laugh.
When I saw
her standing in the shade on the day I went to look for her, I gave Cora a rub
on her hairy forehead and left her there. I fully expected that she would join
the rest of the cows soon.
day, there was still no Cora. Now I was concerned. Again, I went to look for her.
She was not where I last left her, or nowhere in that area. I looked all over
our little farm. I at first could not find her anywhere. Finally, I came upon her
lying under some balsams in furthest point that she could find to be alone.
fine, but I knew that this was not a good sign. I had never watched a cow die
before. Growing up on the farm, we never had a cow die of old age. We would
always ship them before they got to that stage. That is what herdsmen do. But I
already commented about my learning curve in being a herdsman.
when I saw her lying at that place on our farm, I was worried. It was as if she
had gone off to die. She rose to her feet when I came near, but she had the
look about her that she was not interested in coming back up the hill to be
with the others. I had brought a little feed in a bucket for her. She sniffed
it and licked at it a little, but she was not interested. This was not like
The day was
hot and muggy. I had even replaced my standard-wear bib overalls with shorts
that day, and just the act of walking around the farm soaked me and all my
clothes with sweat. I walked back to the pond and got a pail of water for her,
and she drank a little, but not much. Inside, I knew that Cora was dying.
For three days
I went down to check on her, although I did
This is the last time I saw Cora when
she was still able to hold her head up
not really have hope that Cora
would pull through. She knew that it was her time to die. I knew it too.
Nevertheless, I kept tempting her with goodies. I walked back up to the farm and
got her a nice bit of hay, just in case she should decide to eat a little. There
was an apple tree in the woods near to where she lay, and I picked a couple of apples
for her. She always loved apples and would gobble them down so fast I used to
be afraid that she would choke on one; and I did not know how to do the heimlich
maneuver on a cow. However, when I brought the apples to her this time, I held
one up to her snout. She first took it in her mouth, but her appetite was gone.
She let it drop to the ground.
after dark, I heard coyotes yipping in the direction where Cora lie. They were
not near where she was lying, but I was afraid they might find her during the
night. She would have no strength to fight them off. I took my revolver and walked
carefully in the dark down the hill and through the balsams. There, a couple
hundred feet from Cora, I aimed at nothing and emptied the cylinder of bullets
into the tops of the trees. I hoped it would be warning enough for the coyotes
to stay away. I don’t know if my shooting did anything, but at least they did
not come that night.
days Cora lie there. She sometimes drank a little water, but I don’t think she
ate anything at all, or if she did, it was very little. But she seemed
comfortable and always perked up a little when I came to see her. If it had seemed
like she was suffering, I would perhaps have put her out of her misery. But she
mostly seemed peaceful – just waiting for death to come. It was difficult for
me, but I had wanted to let her die naturally, so that is what I did.
afternoon when I last went to check on her, I knew that she had died even
before I got there. The last time that I saw her, I knew that death was very
near. When I arrived at the spot, she lie still, flat on the ground. She was
peaceful now. It is sad for me, but honestly, I don’t think it would be so sad
except for the fact that she had to see her last calf killed by predators. I
wanted to let Cora die a natural death, and that is what she did. My regret is
that I did not want it to be this soon.
that if the calf would not have been killed, Cora would not have died this
year. Her little calf would have kept her alive. I think that she is right.
I will miss
Cora. Most mornings I look out on the fields to see the cows. Quite often, when
the light was still dim and the cows were still lying on the ground from
sleeping during the night, all that I was able to make out was Cora’s graceful
horns sticking out of the fog.
I do not
know how Cora’s life was in the many years before she came to our farm, but I
can say that she had a nice life here. All of our animals do, and despite the
occasional heartache, that is one of the joys of our farm.