The Crowded Acre – Annabelle

by Jennifer Welch

Jamie said the calf delivered just fine, making her oldest cow a mommy once again. Annabelle was a good mommy to her calves, and this time was no exception. She was a full-blooded Jersey that had been bred to a Scottish Highland bull. Her calf was a bullcalf, shaggy and wet, eager to stand on his own. The usual ritual took place; she licked him dry, he stood on his wobbly legs, she called to him with soft, sweet sounds, and he made his way to the teat and began to suckle. New life had begun.
Jamie and I met through our farm blogs. She runs a grassfed sheep farm in the Powderhorn Valley outside of Gunnison. I had been following her blog for a while before I realized how close she was to me. We started corresponding with each other outside of our blogs and eventually decided to meet. I made the drive down to Powderhorn, family in tow, to pick up some of Jamie’s grassfed lamb and to spend the afternoon getting to know one another. The afternoon was delightful, and we had lots to talk about and plenty to see. I don’t enjoy the company of many people, but I loved Jamie hard and fast the moment I laid eyes on her.
We live mountains away from Jamie and her family, and we mostly talk through email or through our blogs. So when a blog post popped up on my computer screen about an older cow having health problems after calving, my heart sank. It was Annabelle. Jamie wrote of how she had been doing fine, but that suddenly she started showing signs of milk fever. Milk fever can strike any cow, but dairy cows – especially the Jerseys – can be highly prone to it. The cow is unable to mobilize enough stored calcium into her system to match the calcium being used by her body to produce large amounts of milk after calving. It is common among older cows. My heart began to break.
Good friends are hard to come by. Especially when your idea of a good time is slinging poop, watching a pig farrow, or milking a favorite cow every day – like clockwork. It’s not always easy to explain a love of farming to people who don’t share that love. Sometimes it’s shocking to feel lonely in a room full of people, not being able to find common ground between you and the rest of the world. As I said, good friends are hard to come by. So when you find a good friend that loves those things you love with a fiery passion, you hold on to them. You hold on to them tight. It is kismet.
I watched the story unfold on my computer screen. It’s not common to see me in front of that screen in the middle of a busy summer day, but I was glued. Things didn’t look good for dear Annabelle. I tried to offer support from my desk; I hoped beyond hope that she would recover and that my friend wouldn’t have to suffer a broken heart. I watched and I waited until it was time to go to bed. “Ding.” My computer alerted me to incoming mail. It was from Jamie.
“You still up?”
“Yep. Everything okay? How is Annabelle?”
“Everything is fine, now. I’ll tell you all about it in the morning. xoxox”
I awoke the following morning to a long email. Annabelle was gone. Hot tears streamed down my face. I knew my friend’s heart was breaking because she knows “what it is” about a cow. I sat down and did the only thing I could do; I wrote.

for j –
a friend is losing her cow today.
she is not hiding in the creekbed
or carelessly misplaced among the willows,
nor is she bedded down in the tallest grass
stealing away time to lick her newborn calf,
no. she is dying.
it will not be an easy death
but a welcome end to the struggle;
her weary bones relinquished unto the earth,
her eyes losing the last of their light,
the last of her fight.
her calf will call out to her
and in the absence of her reply –
that painful silence that will befall –
my friend’s heart will shatter
into a thousand million tiny pieces,
scattered among the dirt
between tall blades of grass
carried off by the wind
like a silent scream that begs for reprieve.

if I was there
I would put wildflowers in her hair
and throw my arms around her
to hold the thousand million tiny pieces
together like glue.

but I am mountains away.
I cannot reach her now.
instead I walk up to the mountaintops
to let out a silent scream of my own
before waiting patiently
to catch the pieces of her
floating by on the wind,
so they may not be lost
– me

Jen Welch lives and writes in the Upper Arkansas River Valley. And even though she complains when the pigs wear their dinner on their heads, she can be found forcing her husband to wear his – only when he is acting like the fourth child.