Amazingly, it's been nine years since we brought Matilda home from the commercial dairy herd where she had become a burden. They sold her off because she had scabs on her teats and a raging case of mastitis. Because of these issues, Matilda had a rough start here with us; but throughout the subsequent round of unpleasant treatments, she remained sweet and gentle, a true Jersey in disposition.
I blatantly admit she's far more of a pet than livestock. Matilda taught me more about animal husbandry and dairying than all the rest of the herd put together. Nowadays I prefer Polly's milk to Matilda's, but Matilda remains my favorite. We don't hesitate to butcher any extraneous animal on our farm, but Matilda? No way. Oh, I know her day will come, and it won't be too far in the future, but on that day I will absent myself from home and when the meat comes back, it will all be donated to our church's food pantry.
And even after all these years, I continue to spoil her, especially in winter.
Consider this peaceful scene: All the animals, tucked under the feedbox awning. At the time I took this photo, it was spitting rain and chilly, and everyone was cozy under the shelter.
Except Matilda, who has always been at the bottom of the totem pole. While the other critters enjoyed the shelter of the awning and the abundant food in the feedboxes, Matilda stood alone a few yards away. Her gentle, undemanding nature means she never argues back against anyone who wants to push her around.
This is why, every winter, I tuck Matilda in the barn each night with her own food. This way I am assured she's warm, dry, and well-fed. Sure it's a bit of extra work to make sure the pen stays clean and stocked, but my peace of mind is worth it.
Each evening, just before Don feeds the rest of the beaties, I poke my head out the back of the barn and call, "Matilda!" She's waiting for this call, and starts ambling her way toward the stall.
Her 18-month-old steer calf, Sean, follows. Sean doesn't need the food or shelter, but Matilda likes him with her, so along he comes.
I don't close the stall door behind them; I close the corral gate. That way Matilda and Sean have room to move around the corral without being confined to the stall (plus they have access to the water tank).
Sunday morning, when I took the photo below, it was pouring sheets of rain blowing horizontally in a 30-mph gale. I delayed releasing the chickens since they would just be blown away, but I fed the cattle and horse, all of whom were happily protected from the weather by the awning. Had Matilda been among them, she would have been out getting drenched in the pouring rain and howling wind.
Instead, she was cozy and dry in her stall. Yes.
Matilda is due to calve in late January or early February. She loves, loves, loves raising babies, and she produces beautiful calves, so her life's purpose happily continues.
I'm not sure how old Matilda is. I know she's at least 15, maybe older. If she'd stayed on the commercial dairy, even if she'd remained healthy enough for them, her useful life would have ended years ago. But here on our farm, she has a purpose and has enjoyed life a decade longer than she might have otherwise. She won't be with us forever -- in fact, probably not much more than a year or two -- so I'll spoil her while I can.