It was a typical afternoon for my childhood: I’d just gotten home from a volleyball practice, and I needed to feed the heifers. I went out to the pasture and was instantly greeted by my girls, though I noticed Starshine wasn’t among them. I looked over, and there she was standing alone near the water trough. She didn’t move. I walked over to her, and she tried to take a step. At that moment, I noticed her leg was broken; where it should have been firm and straight it appeared to only hang from her body. Emotions flooded my body as tears ran down my eyes, and I ran to find my dad.
Looking back, I’m so thankful that my dad presented a possible solution that did not involve my dear Starshine turning into hamburger patties. He made some calls and the next thing I knew we had a plan to take her to the University of Florida (UF) Large Animal Veterinary Clinic. The following morning, I woke bright and early to ride with Starshine to UF. My Uncle Joe drove the truck and trailer, and two hours later we finally arrived.
As the veterinary students placed an image of what looked like crushed potato chips onto a lighted screen, it was clear we were looking at an X-Ray of Starshine’s femur. I can still remember the image clearly. A splint and cast would be required. A plan was made for Starshine to remain at the UF clinic for treatment, and the veterinary students would care for and monitor her.
After several weeks of phone calls and updates, it was finally time to take Starshine home. Her femur had healed, but in doing so it was twice as large and would be a source of some arthritis. This meant she would never be quite as fast as she once was, but she was otherwise healthy. I was so relieved to have my girl home! Months later she was successfully bred and birthed a beautiful heifer calf.
Starshine never rejoined the herd after calving. Instead, she was given a permanent home in the calving barn in the front of the farm. To enter the milking parlor, we had to put a halter on her, walk her along the front of the farm near the road, go up the parlor’s exit ramp, proceed backwards through the parlor, turn around in the prewash area, and then re-enter the parlor in the correct direction. It was a maze, but it didn’t take Starshine long to commit it to memory. Eventually, we left the gate unchained and at 6:30 a.m. and 6:30 p.m. every day Starshine knew it was time to be milked, and she would walk by herself to the parlor and patiently wait until the gate was opened for her.
Since the front of our farm was near a road, seeing a cow independently walking out front was cause for some phone calls of concern that a cow had gotten out of the pen. Reassuring the neighbors that Starshine knew what she doing likely caused some disbelief, but it was true. Starshine lived a full life bearing many great calves. When I would get upset, I would always go to her barn. I could sit with my back leaning against her as she cradled me in her neck, and I stroked her face. She was a comfort to even more people than me, as I often saw many of the guys at the farm walk over to scratch her head and rub her neck. Starshine’s story is one of hope and resilience, and I’m forever grateful that we could witness it.
Erin Massey is the product development manager at Prairie Farms, a farmer-owned cooperative based in Edwardsville, Illinois. She is responsible for overseeing all aspects of the development process, from concept to commercialization. Erin grew up on a Florida dairy farm and has a deep-rooted passion to invigorate the dairy industry. Erin earned a bachelor's degree in chemical engineering from the University of South Florida. Her personal mantra is "Be Bold."