Many of you know that I lost Norma (The Best Cow Ever) last week. I have truly appreciated all the kind words that you have shared with me on facebook, twitter and other ways. There have also been many questions about why Norma died and what exactly happened. Norma would be disappointed in me if I didn’t share her story with you.
I am a cow auction addict. I love going to cattle sales and it’s even better when I actually get to buy something. In April of 2010 I was still working full time on my in-law’s dairy farm and didn’t have a clue that things were about to change drastically in a few short months. My birthday was coming up and it just so happened that the local sale barn was having a cattle sale. My father-in-law came down as well, little did I know that he and my husband had already discussed buying me a calf as a birthday present. We got there a little before the auction and I fell in love with ….
This calf caught my eye and I was just hoping that I would have enough cash to buy her when I walked into the barn to check out the cows. Towards the end of the barn, the cow that would really change my path in life was standing there. As soon as I saw Norma I had to get my father-in-law so he could see her. I had never seen anything like her and I had no idea what breed or breeds of cow she was. In fact I am fairly certain I had never even heard of the Normande breed of cattle. Never in a million years did I expect that at the end of the sale both Norma and her calf, the one I fell in love with first, would be coming home with me. Somehow without ever even letting me see that he was bidding my father-in-law bought both Norma and Nermal and I was over the moon when I figured it out. At first Norma wouldn’t even let me touch her. After much persistence on my part and a lot of patience she finally decided I wasn’t too bad after all. Although I will say that her personality wasn’t exactly as loving towards me as I was towards her. Usually in her presence I was merely tolerated because I scratched the places she couldn’t reach very well. She also quickly won our hearts over in the milking parlor too. Norma was a very good producer, especially for her size and her butterfat and protein levels were the highest in the herd.
A few months later after a family civil war Pat and I were no longer on the farm and it broke my heart to leave Norma behind. After a while I was able to find a herd that had a little extra space and I went and took out a loan from the bank to buy Norma from my inlaws and was able to move her somewhere where I could see her. Eventually she moved to the farm across the road from us, where all of our heifers and cows are and I got to see her all the time.
Norma continued on, being a rock star and gave me another daughter in March of 2011. Then in her next lactation she had problems getting pregnant again. Most cows that would have had so many breeding and still not gotten pregnant would of had to be culled (sold) from the herd because a cow will decrease the amount of milk she gives greatly the further she goes from having a calf until she dries up completely. However since Norma was a special cow we kept trying and thankfully, she finally got pregnant.
In August Norma gave me a bull calf and I will admit, I was disappointed to not have another daughter from her to carry on her line. A while after Norma calved she started to show signs that she wasn’t doing well. We had the vet out for her and judging from the symptoms we made the decision to do a surgery on her to fix a twisted stomach, a fairly routine surgery for a dairy cow. We weren’t positive that she had the twisted stomach but since she was Norma and she was special the chance that it was twisted and she would get very sick from not fixing it we decided to cover our bases and do the surgery. The thing was, when we got in there we realized that her stomach wasn’t actually twisted. Severe indigestion was causing the symptoms that mimicked a twisted stomach.
After the surgery Norma seemed fine. She went back to being her usual self and even stared in my first video blog. Things were back to normal with her until just about 2 weeks ago. Norma came into heat and we bred her, in fact, she stared again in the post I did about it. But Kevin, our herdsman mentioned to me that she wasn’t giving as much milk as she normally did the day after she was in heat. Not a huge worry, often cows that are in heat are so crazy in love with everything they forget to eat for a day and milk production goes down during the hangover of lust and love. But with Norma, a week later she still wasn’t going back up on milk and now she didn’t want to eat and had very loose manure. These things are not signs of a healthy happy cow. We called our vet out and we started to try and figure out what exactly was making Norma sick. We were able to rule out the usual suspects, it wasn’t mastitis, it wasn’t pneumonia, it wasn’t a twisted stomach, it wasn’t this or that or any of things on the list that have easy or even difficult fixes. We just couldn’t tell what was causing the problem. So we pumped her stomach with water and alfalfa meal to keep her hydrated and to try to stimulate her appetite. We took blood to test her levels and checked her for some cow diseases and started her on some cow sized Tums.
I figured she would bounce back, she was after all Norma The Best Cow Ever. There was just no way that something as silly as a tummy bug was going to take her from me. Very early the next morning I boarded my plane bound for Kansas and the Small Town #140Conf social media conference that I was speaking at. When I turned my phone on after touching down in Wichita I had text messages and voice mails from the farm that I never expected. Norma had “gone down” in the parlor while being milked. When a cow is to weak to stand she will lay down and not want to get back up. This is a major problem. By the time I got the messages the vet was pulling into the driveway to try and help her. I talked with her and she let me know that the blood work they had done showed some very troubling numbers. Norma’s white blood cell count was very low, her liver levels were also very low and her electrolyte balance was crazy out of whack. This information didn’t tell us what was wrong with her but it did tell us that the prognosis was very poor. I asked the vet to do whatever she possibly could do to save my cow, I got in my rental car and balled my eyes out. The vet threw everything that she had at her hoping that something would “fix” her for me. My husband went at night after work and worked on her more. But she just wasn’t getting better. I asked him to send my photos so that I could see her for myself. I still had hope that she would rebound and that I wouldn’t loose my Norma.
After I saw the photos my prayers that she would get better changed, instead I prayed that she would just hang on until I could get home and hug her neck and tell her how much she meant to me before she left. Totally selfish of me, to know that she was sick but want her to hang on anyways, but not being there for her was killing me inside and I was selfish. The next morning m husband checked her before work and she was still hanging on. I told him to hug her for me and tell her that she had to get better. He had taken her temperature and it was hardly above 95, he thought the thermometer was broke but I knew she was leaving. I still had to go forward with the plans that had brought me to Kansas and went to the appointment I had that morning. All during the appointment I could feel my phone vibrate in my pocket. I knew why but I had to keep it together through the appointment. I got to the rental car and called home knowing she was gone.
We buried her on our farm. I can see where she lays from the windows in the kitchen. Eventually the plan for this area is for it to be an orchard although right now it only has two scraggly plum trees. Ashes to ashes, her body will feed the trees that will one day provide fruit for us. The circle of life goes on. But for me I will always have a little piece of my heart dedicated to her.
There can never be another Norma. Not just because a cow that special doesn’t happen often, a dairy farm can’t sustain a whole herd of pets and ultimately that’s what Norma was. As much as I love all of my cows the extreme lengths and expense we went to because Norma was a special cow, not just during her final sickness but also in keeping her even after she had been open for so long can’t happen with every cow. We treat all of our cows with compassion, respect and love but to be honest if she wasn’t special Norma’s story would be different because it would have had to be different. Norma wasn’t a young cow, my best guess at her age would be 6-8 years old. She could have lived longer but it wasn’t in the cards. The blood work that was drawn while Norma was still alive came back and showed that she was positive for Johne’s disease as well as Bovine Leukosis. Both of these diseases are contagious through various forms, Norma probably had them when I bought her. One of the problems with buying cows from auctions is that you don’t know where they came form and what diseases they could possibly have. We will manage her daughters as thought they are positive for them as well and do what we can to halt the spread to their future daughters and other cows and calves. Both of these diseases are ultimately fatal. It wouldn’t of mattered what we did to try and save her, Norma wasn’t going to be able to be saved.
I am very thankful that Norma came into my life. Not only did she allow me to learn so much about cows, sharing her life as a dairy cow on our farm bit by bit here on my blog allowed me to share the story of dairy farming and I think that alone make her special.
****************Updated to add… This story has got to be one of the sweetest things I have ever experienced and I wanted to share with you Norma II.