Thursday, April 27, 2017

LaFonda: In Memoriam

This is the saddest farm post I have ever written and I have been bawling as I write it. My beloved cow, LaFonda is gone. This is the last portrait I took of her.
Three weeks ago, when I fed the cows their evening meal I noticed LaFonda did not seem like her usual self.  Instead of gustily eating her hay, she  went onto the shed and  lowered herself heavily to the straw. In the morning she was standing, but did not come out to eat, so I called the vet. We both suspected pneumonia because it had been so rainy and cold.
When he got here, she was down and could not stand. He warned me, this was very bad - when a cow goes down there might be a 50-50 chance they will  stand again, but odds are much lower for a big, older cow like LaFonda. However in her favor was that she  seemed otherwise healthy, no fever,  and he said her conditions in the  shed were perfect.  I was determined to do everything to get her up again. While her went to his truck to get her an injection, she managed to stand and sort of stumble outside, but when he gave her the injection, she went down, atop the compost pile, We got her up on her brisket, supported with water and hay, and hoped that with the pain relief she would get up again.

Half an hour later I looked out the window and she was standing by the feeder - which I though was great news! I went out out make sure she had hay in there, and water so she wouldn't have to try to walk too far, and discovered that she had not walked there but had actually dragged herself on her  bleeding knees to get there, leaving two deep grooves in the muddy cow yard,  then somehow stood up.   I was simultaneously scared and encouraged she had so much determination.

A bit later I saw her lying down again and went out to check on her--and then I panicked--she wasn't really lying down--she had stepped (or crawled) off the harder surface into the deep muck in the corner of the yard and her front feet were stuck in the  mud, her back feet were  stretched out behind her like you never see cow legs go. I called my vet (sobbing) and he said we were going ot have to get her pulled out quickly to not to permanent damage to her back or legs. I rushed over to my dairy farmer neighbors and told them the situation and Mark came right over with his skidloader. The only option was to pull her out by her hind leg. Rog had just  gotten home from work- thankfully -so there were 3 of us. I cannot descibe how horrible it was to see her pulled by a back leg--and  not at all easy for  the skidloader in the muddiness.
When we got her up to the dry area,  Rog and Mark rolled her into the  bucket and held her in as I did my first ever skidloader operating, tilting and lifting the bucket up with her in it.
Mark set her down in the shed, and  we made her comfortable getting her feet under her, propping her with straw bales, giving her food and water, and closing the gate on the shed so she could not get out into the mud again.  Mark was not very optimistic, he has dealt with many downed cows over a lifetime of being a dairy farmer, but I was  determined my TLC and  attentiveness would help her recover.  The hard part for the next few days was keeping her upright-if she laid down on her side she could not get up and could bloat. And we had to move her regularly because all that weight in one position would permanently  damage her nerves and muscles,  It is not easy moving a 1200-lb or more dead weight. I am so grateful to our farm assistant Ruth, neighbor Mark, gardening helper Denise, and Rog, of course, helping move her around every few hours, and getting her back upright when she went over or when she dragged herself and her legs went  backwards.

By the third day I was losing hope, She did not seem in pain, really but she did not to try to stand or move around anymore and did not eat or drink very much. I had been trying to find someone with a lift or a sling to suspend her and I finally found a vet in Zumbrota that had one I could use. I rented it and my other dairy farmer neighbors came to help lift her with their skidloader  - they have occasionally done this with their cows before.

The lift has two clamps that pull her up by her pins (hip bones), plus we supported the front half with bands around her chest. It was absolutely heartbreaking -- she  had no response in her back legs and even her front was extremely weak and futile. We had to make the decision then that it was time. It was a beautiful day so they moved her to a grassy patch by the front of the barn and we made her a deep bed of straw so she owuld be cofortable and  it would be easy to transport her.  A downer cow truck was coming to the neighborhood the next morning. I had really no idea how a downer truck worked, but it sounded like it was what farmers do-- but then a farmer friend told me that would  be a terrible way for her to spend her last few hours, so I decided to put her down on the farm and bury her here.
Ruth and I spent nearly every minute with her. I  reminded her of all our adventures together --how Cadence and I found her in a Craigslist and and drove hours to see her and fell in love with her, how pathetic I was at handmilking and she was so patient and would  turn her head around and tug gently on a lock of my hair to encourage me, the sweet, beautiful calves she gave us (Lindy and  Splotch), those times she and the other cows sneaked out and went on adventures to downtown Douglas and the neighbor's golf putting green, her being honored at the Cow Puja every year, how she has been the a muse for so many artists and has been the first wonderful introduction to bovines for so many children. I sang her all our old milking songs. I gave her bananas and a few tortilla chips - her favorite junk foods. I wept constantly.
We had coffee together her final morning while the hole was dug. I was surprisingly relieved the decision had been made. The hardest part had been second guessing myself--not wanting to prolong her suffering, wanting to give her every chance, hoping against hope, and catching a horrendous cold from  lack of sleep, physical exhaustion, constant crying and being in the hay for days on end.
My deepest gratitude to Mark and  Denise and Ruth, who carried out the final act without me because I am so cowardly.  I regret not being there in the final instant - I didn't think I could bear it, but maybe my imagining of it is worse than the reality would have been.

LaFonda is buried at the crest of the pasture where she liked to lounge and chew her cud and watch the world go by. I had planted a small orchard in that spot when we first moved to the farm, not realizing we would soon get cows that would make quick work of those fruit trees. So now we have planted 3 little plum trees around her--she can now nourish the orchard that once nourished her.
I am so grateful to have had the opportunity to  become a cow person through LaFonda. She lived a good, long life for a dairy cow--she was at least 15, and her last 8 years being pampered at Squash Blossom Farm would surely would be the envy of most any cow.

Thank you, LaFonda. You were  gentle, patient, nurturing, beautiful, kind, magical. I learned so much from you.  I miss you, my friend.


15 comments:

Becky said...

Good bye, sweet LaFonda. I'm so sorry for your loss. What a beautiful tribute post to a very dear being.

Susan said...

I had tears in my eyes as I read this, but that last photo did me in - I cried. I am not a farm girl, but I've always liked cows. When I was a child, my cousins had a pet cow and we used to ride her. She was so gentle and loved being around children and all of the attention that she got. Thank you so much for sharing LaFonda's last days. I know that it must've been extremely hard for you. It sounds like you found the perfect resting place for her.

I actually live just up the road from you (Pine Island) and am looking forward to getting more of your wonderful bread at the summer farmer's market!

Marie said...

oh Susan -- there simply are no words ... thank you for sharing LaFonda and yourself with the rest of us .....

LaFonda is legendary -- she'll live on forever ...

Pliead1 said...

As someone who admired her, and whose children ogled her, I thank you for sharing her with us all. She is sacred. Sending strength, friends, and may memories comfort us all ❤💗💜

ewkatzmann said...

LaFonda was a sweet, curious, and welcoming being- our grandchildren loved visiting her and celebrating her at the puma. I have loved cows since my siblings and I went to a dairy farm in New Jersey for the worst weeks of the polio epidemic each summer when we were little. Every summer we learned to love and spend time in the company of the friendly members of the herd, and were warned away from the one or two who were not. LaFonda just seemed interested or busy doing something more interesting. And her greetings were unmistakable- coming close, nudging, and that tongue!
The circle of life: nurturing plums trees replacing those she devoured years ago. Still present on the mound, in everyone's hearts. 💖

troutbirder said...

It is indeed so hard when we lose our beloved animals. Mine was always my hunting dogs long remembered much missed.....

Julie and Harold said...

Quite a scenario of events. The last picture is beautiful; what a way to remember her.

Bethany Ringdal said...

Oh, Sue, now I'm crying too! LaFonda was such a friend to us. Who else had a cow as their flower girl? I remember drinking milk by the gallon--she totally spoiled me on store milk. I remember pulling mozzarella in the kitchen, and thinking what an incredible blessing to know the lovely creature it came from. How she would greet us in the morning when we came out to milk. How patient she always was with the children. Thank you for sharing your cow with us, and letting her become our cow too. What a blessing to have known her! How hard to say goodbye!

Deborah Carlson said...

I am crying, too. What a difficult few days for LAFonda aons those who loved her. She had a good life but in passing she will certainly leave a big empty spot at Squash Blossom Farm. Hugs to you....and that is a magnificent picture of her at sunset....really beautiful and so fitting.

Lori Feyen said...

Such a tribute to your magical creature. She was special even to those that never met her. Maybe you should write a children's book about her. Beautiful words.

Lori Feyen said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Carolyn Griffith said...

I have loved LaFonda from afar ever since I heard about her State Fair quilt, and am so glad I got to meet her last summer.

Marcia said...

I am so touched by your story of love for your cow. I know you miss her terribly. I hope besides photos you have a painting of her somewhere in the barn.

Vera said...

Susan, big hug to you! Thanks for writing and posting this beautiful memorium and tribute to LaFonda - what a wonderful way to both share LaFonda and to grieve. She was the only Appaloosa cow I've ever known, and she was so patient, to let rank amateurs try to milk her! Thanks for sharing your grief and your memories, as you honor her with your writing, your photos, your paintings and sculptures, your stories and the new plum trees!

Stacy Tarkowski said...

I've never posted on this blog before but have been following for a long time. I am sitting in my cubicle at work with tear-filled eyes for a cow I never met but came to know and love through your wonderful stories. This tribute was so beautiful! I am so very sorry for your loss.