We are used to the idea of endings here on the farm, as much as we can be anyway. We coo over cute chicks, but we know that they’ll be off to slaughter in a few months. When we welcome piglets onto the farm, it’s in the knowledge that most of them will be off to new homes once they are weaned, and the ones that stay will eventually go for meat. It’s the cycle of life here and we accept, even embrace, those facts.
But there are animals that come to us with the intention of them staying, they are here for the long haul. We now have cows for breeding and a breeding pair of pigs, their life here may not be long by human standards, but their tenure will still be significant. When our milking cow Wander came onto the farm, we had no expiry date, no sense of an ending to it all. She came, we learned to milk, we continued ad infinitum. Until, until we decided that there needed to be an ending there too.
This year Wander calved out a bull calf (for the second time) and began her second lactation. She did well, producing lots of milk for us. Every day. Every. Single. Day. Our fridge was full, we ran out of places to put food and I spent a lot of my already limited spare time making our dairy products. I made cheese, I made butter, I made yoghurt and I made even more cheese. We were rocking the cheese making train.
Then Stephen had to go away for work for a few days, at the exact time a stomach bug hit us all. So as well as looking after two poorly boys, being ill myself and having farm animals to care for, I had to do the milking. I remember weeping, I remember doubling over trying not to vomit as I watched the cow standing on the lines I had so carefully cleaned to make ready for milking. Stepping them firmly into a nice ripe cow pat and contaminating the lot. I remember having to ask my still poorly eldest boy to help push the cart with the milking equipment back from the barn to the house. I remember shouting bad words at the cow. Very bad words.
That was when we started talking about selling the cow. To have a job on the farm that I can’t fully participate in on a day to day basis is a) not fair and b) very impractical. Stephen works full time, he also has to go away for his job sometimes. I am a full time homeschooling Mum and I need to be away from the farm on day trips and to take the boys to activities. November loomed large in our consciousness when we’d have to start milking twice a day, hauling the kit and the abundance of milk back and forth to the house no matter what the weather, no matter what the illness or schedule.
I started to imagine my days without a 5 hour block set aside for cheese making 2-3 times a week. I started to imagine storage space in my fridge. I started to imagine my beloved less exhausted, less frazzled, less drained from doing milking chores every morning before driving for an hour across the city to do a full day at work. I started to think that it was time to make a change.
When we started the farm, in 2012, we were so excited to finally be able to try all the things we’d been reading about for so long that we wanted to do it all. And we have. We’ve raised chicks, meat chickens, pigs; we’ve gone from buying to breeding and from imagining to doing. We’ve learned so many new skills in such a short time that it seems mad if we stop to think about it, but we don’t, because we are too busy. It’s all been wonderful, it’s all been difficult, it’s all be amazing. It’s the life we’ve chosen for ourselves and we feel lucky, every day, to have it.
But after years of adding and doing more and more each year, we’re now acknowledging the need to pull back, just a bit. We see the need for a bit of breathing space, a bit less exhaustion and a bit more flexibility. In that examination, the thing that we realised had to go, was the dairy. So with regret we put Wander up for sale.
By day 10 of the ad going up a bargain was struck, by day 13 a lovely lady had driven up from Southern Ontario to collect her and take her off to her new home on a horse farm down there. Her calf went with her of course, to keep each other company in the new paddocks on the new farm. She went with reasonable grace and not too much fuss, but with enough shenanigans for us to know she was the same girl we’ve been raising for 2 1/2 years now. We patted her goodbye and breathed into the quiet that was the next morning. No milking chores, no cheese making, no milking machine to clean, no jars to scald for milk. Done.
Perhaps I should claim some regret, a touch of sentimental sadness, but the truth is I don’t feel it. We made a decision, one that was best for all of us, and it has borne fruit as we’d hoped it would. Our mornings are quieter and easier to manage, we are less stressed and tired, a burden has been lifted and we are happy with that. Wander has gone to a lovely farm, with premium horse hay for snacks no less, a place where she’ll be pampered and treasured I have no doubt at all. I’m proud of the work it took to bring her to this moment, I’m relieved that work is done.
So as the full moon rises over the beginning of this new season, as we contemplate the work that fall brings and the new starts that come along with it, I’m happy with this particular ending. It’s not how we thought it would go, there have been many triumphs and frustrations along the way, we’ve learned a lot. I wish Wander well in her new home, I’ll think of her fondly always. And, I suppose, despite by stiff upper lip, I will miss that silly brown girl. Just a little bit.