Yesterday we had a cow go down and she couldn’t get up. She was a beautiful 8-year-old Jersey cow that had a 3-month-old calf at foot. I’d been watching her for a couple months as I noticed that her body condition has been slipping. I chalked it up to her putting all of her energy into her calf, but now we know there must have been something else going on.
We tried a few things to get her energised and on her feet, nothing worked. We even called the vet to come and assess her — an activity that we are not used to. We call on vets for pregnancy testing and have had them out to stitch up a cow that cut itself badly on a fence post — but that’s it. We don’t really deal with issues that warrant getting the vets out. The vet couldn’t put her finger on exactly what was wrong but did say that it looked like the end of the line for our girl.
I organised myself and turned on the cool room. I grabbed a wash bucket, boning and skinning knives, sharpening steel, and a 22 rifle. She passed quickly and easily and without a show and I got to work butchering her, with the mob initially showing some interest and then quickly going off to resume their very important task at hand — grazing grass.
Our tractor is currently in a workshop getting some repairs so I had to do this on the ground which makes the job a lot harder. When gutting a large animal like a 500kg Jersey cow gravity really is your best friend. Unfortunately I was on flat river country with no mechanical ability to employ gravity — so I slogged it out on the ground.
Bomvu, our bull, was incredibly curious and spent almost the whole time very close. Lots of sniffing and watching. I was pretty intimidated at the start as he is a big boy and has a great formidable crown of horns. After lots of stopping and watching I decided to get on with it.
Dogs can smell your fear and often act accordingly. I decided that it was very likely Bomvu was the same, so I put on a brave face and tried to step up and meet his mark. After a while I set into a good routine, with Otto and Theo watching me from the ute window with wide eyes and lots of questions.
I feel like Bomvu and I really connected and it was very peaceful. I even reached over and got to scratch him between the eyes a couple of times. An exhilarating and calming moment.
One frequently asked question is what did the other cows think? I can’t get inside their head but I can observe from where I am. This isn’t my first time slaughtering and processing an animal in the field. The other animals come over, generally jump back at the crack of the rifle, then go back to grazing almost immediately.
They treat me and my activity exactly the same as if I was in their paddock fencing or working on a water pipe. It’s very peaceful and no signs of judgement, sorrow, anger, or any other emotion people might think the animals would be feeling.
When you have livestock you have deadstock, and this is all part of the job. I’m grateful to viscerally participate in life.