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Dairy Cows Are Born Looking for a Way to Die

by @ 9:03 am on January 15, 2014.

They really, really are. And I say that from the standpoint of someone who has actually worked with cows. So many of the “abuse” videos I see include cows being smacked with ropes, or kicked, or drug around using a skid steer. Apparently there are people who have never worked with these animals, who believe if you just ask nicely the cow will magically listen. They won’t. I’ve tried.

Yesterday we had two down cows, a very unusual occurrence for our currently small herd. One we saved, one we didn’t. Both involved cows that were, the day before, fit, strong, and healthy.

The first I found when I went out to get the cows in. Per Organic regulations, our cows have access to the pasture 24/7 all winter long, although we do restrict them to a 2 acre section. There is a spring head at the top of this section that flows down the middle. The “stream” is creates is about 2″ deep and such that my 3 year old could jump across. Here’s a picture of the pasture. Can you see it? Look hard… It flows down the valley. The snow makes it easier to spot.


Well, there’s a cow lying in the water, a little bloated, her back down the hill. For those who don’t know cows, when a cow manages to lay with her back down the hill she can’t get up. Odd as this seems, it’s true. Being used to horses, I still remember the first time Ern came to get me, all excited because one of my horses had their back down the hill. He was as surprised by my “so what?” reaction as I was by his concern. He watched a minute, and sure enough the horse rolled clear over and got right up. Cows can’t do that. A cow would’ve laid there, unable to burp, until she bloated and died.

Anyway, we can see a lot of that pasture from the house, but one of the barns blocks part of it and of course that’s where she was. So neither Ern nor I spotted her when we first got up. I get Ern and we grab a rope and the tractor. When a 1200 pound animal can’t get up, there is just no help for it but to hook a rope to her and drag. Although it looked like she’d been there a little while, she still seemed strong. We got her drug out of the water and turned around on the hill. She was already loosing consciousness at that point, and died within minutes. As strong as she still seemed when we first found her, our best guess is we dislodged a blood clot when we moved her. But it’s hard to know. It’s also possible it was heart attack or hypothermia. Or some combination thereof. Regardless of what actually killed her or how she got there in the first place (guessing she was either knocked down by another cow or slipped in the mud trying to get a drink) she was one of out best cows and losing her was a pretty big blow. It’s never the cows you planned to cull anyway that die like this – it’s always the best ones.

The second cow is is the best example I’ve seen in a long time of truly, truly too stupid to live. At the end of milking there was still one cow lying in the free stalls.


(Note that this photo is not the stuck cow, just representative of a cow in a free stall. Also note the stalls were scraped clean as was the barn just the night before. Cows are not only stupid, they’re filthy and have to poop more than any other creature on the planet.)

She refused to get up. She’d messed in the stall and her feet were slipping a bit when she tried. Yelling and smacking did no good. She just laid there and refused to even make an effort. So I went back in the parlor and got my trusty cow-motivator: a 2′ long piece of thin plastic water pipe. I’ve been whacked with it myself – at worst it just stings a bit. In no way does it scar or particularly hurt the cow. It makes more noise than anything. But as soon as that cow saw what I had, up she got. I didn’t have to touch her with it. From her state, she’d been lying there since the day before. She made a bee line to the feeder, clearly hungry. She looked about like death warmed over. She was laying in the stall just how she was supposed to be, so we didn’t think anything odd at bedtime check the night before. Now, why would a cow who could get up with no assistance whatsoever choose to lay there and starve to death as I have no doubt she would have if left alone? Because dairy cows are born looking for a place to die. Unless you’ve actively worked with them, it’s hard to understand just how true this is.

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