I heard it. My heart sank and my mind raced. The pop of a rifle echoed in the distance as I briefly stopped working. I knew it was going to happen, yet I was naively unprepared for the reality. It’s not like I haven’t heard it before, but this time it sounded different. It was the sound of failure.
A few years ago, a heifer started chasing me around a pen, licking my shirt, stealing my hat, and constantly resting her head on my chest. I loved this little heifer and mentally marked her as my favorite cow. Out of all the cows in the herd, she was “mine.”
It was many lactations since that day and she was still the favorite, but not just mine. Everyone loved this old cow and called her “theirs.” Wherever you went, she was sure to greet you. It is no surprise that when she did not get pregnant this year, everyone looked at me for guidance. My answer was, “I don’t care how much milk she has, try one more time.” With a little luck she conceived but had to be dried off almost 100 days too early. With that being said, I knew with an extended dry-off time, there were going to be issues.
When she came fresh, we knew it was all hands on deck. She was monitored closely every day and showed great promise of a healthy life until a few days ago. For some dumb luck, she slipped. Slipped! Why?
At first, I thought it was no big deal. We separated her from the herd and doctored her up. After a few days her condition worsened. She gave up, and we had to make the hard choice.
Day in and day out, we care for our animals. Many of us hardly sleep because we are thinking about cows, yet we do not complain. The vast majority of people will never realize that dairy farmers put the cows’ well-being before their own. Even more will never understand the love we have for our animals, but we do it anyways with no regrets.
With that being said, I can assure you it will be awhile before I forget the sound of that pop.
Tyler Ribeiro is a fourth-generation dairy farmer born and raised in California. He is currently partners with his father at Rib-Arrow Dairy in Tulare where they proudly ship their milk to Land O’Lakes. Tyler is actively involved in the dairy industry, holding leadership roles in various organizations locally and across the United States.