In December of 2008, right around Christmas, I saw an article in "Hobby Farms Magazine" about Belted Galloway cattle--black and white STRIPED cattle. They looked like walking Oreo cookies, and, in the pictures, they stood out beautifully against the verdant pasture. I pleaded with Edgar to buy me one for Christmas--it was the only thing I wanted. Just a pet, to look pretty in the pasture. He said we had enough animals, but he grudgingly agreed. It was Christmas, after all.
I went straight to the internet and googled "belted Galloways," a breed of cattle native to Scotland and very rare in the U.S., except in the New England area. Anyway, through networking with members of this breed's society, I found a farmer with a herd of them around Lancaster, PA. I made an email, a phone call, and we were on our way to see them two days later.
At the farm I was deciding which of two bull calves to buy. As usual, I couldn't decide between the two, so I decided that I would have to get both, if I got any at all. Then I inquired about one old cow standing in the middle of the pasture. She was skinny, and she clearly didn't look happy being knee-deep in a dry lot--no grass and no evidence of anything dry. The pasture was mud and cow manure piled a foot deep.
"That's Genevieve--that old cow over there you're looking at. I'm going to make hamburger out of her soon. She's ancient," the farmer said. The cow looked even more forlorn, almost as though she could understand what he was saying.
I was crushed, and I knew immediately I had to do something. "Oh, no you don't. I want her. Let me give her a good home with nice grass. Please, let me buy the cow," I said. I knew farmers had no compunction about butchering their animals, but I couldn't stand by and let him make meatloaf out of her.
"Well, I can get $1,000 for her if I make hamburger out of her."
My hair was standing up on my arms. I tried to be nice. "Let me ask you how many calves she's given you in her lifetime here on your farm."
He began counting. "Huh, well, I bought her from someone who had her for a bunch of years. And she's given me nine calves."
"Don't you think you owe her a little something? Don't you think you ought to want to give her the last few years of her life in a nice place where she has a dry place to sleep and a lush pasture?"
"Listen, lady," he said, with crossed eyebrows, "that's not how we do business."
I said, "Well, just because other farmers do business that way doesn't mean you have to do it the same way. Do the decent thing: let me buy her."
"You can have her for $1,000."
"No," I said. "I want you to give her to me because she's been a good cow and has given you many calves. She has helped support you and your family, along with all the other cows in this mudlot."
"Lady, I can't do that. I can get at least a grand for her for hamburger."
I thought a moment, arms across my chest.
"Well, I'll give you a hundred bucks for her. She's fourteen; she could drop over the minute she gets to our place."
"Oh, lady! You're killin' me."
I was desperate to save the old cow. I had no compunction in giving him an ultimatum. He had gotten enough out of this poor cow. If I had anything to do with it, he wasn't going to grind her up. I said, walking away. "Okay, then, I'm not buying these two bull calves."
"If you don't allow me to take Genevieve for a hundred bucks, I'm not buying these other two young calves. There's another Belted Galloway place in Jersey. I'll buy them there. These two boys are going to be pets--just hang around our place and look cute. Sell me Genevieve, and I'll buy these two guys right here, right now. Don't sell her, and you don't get this deal either. She deserves better than to be made into hamburger."
Then, Edgar raised an eyebrow. He saw the look in my eyes and knew, as far as I was concerned, that it was a done deal. But he tried anyway. "Gay, we only came here to get one Belted Galloway. Now you want three?"
The farmer was still thinking. He didn't want to lose the deal for the bull calves, and, deep down, I think he really did want to give his old cow a good home for the rest of her life.
"Well, okay. But you're killin' me."
Genevieve and the two boys were delivered the next week. They literally danced into the lush, green pasture. While the boys romped up the hill, Genevieve slowly walked after. She couldn't believe her eyes: grass everywhere, hardly any flies buzzing around her head, no muck squishing up between her hoofs. She was in heaven.
This morning, June 23, 2009, Genevieve ate her breakfast of grain and went out to pasture with the boys. When Edgar was putting gasoline into his mower, she walked up the hill to the barnyard. He called out her name as was his custom, and she passed by--on a mission to the barn.
This afternoon I pulled the golf cart alongside the barnyard while Edgar put away the mower. I looked up, and Genevieve lay out on her side in the shed Edgar and I had built especially for the Belties. She was dead.
I'm sad that Genevieve couldn't have had more time with us and grazing with contentment in her lush pasture. She had had a tough life, pushing out calf after calf every year and standing around in muck most of the time. I had wanted to show her more appreciation and that a person could really care about her--for a longer time than just six months.