Abigail….our new Jersey cow.
JR picked the name, right out of thin air, and when I looked up the meaning, it was perfect. Technically, it means “A Father’s Rejoicing,” but Biblically speaking, there were many Abigails. The most famous was Queen Abigail, who shrewdly and wisely saved her husband from King David’s wrath. Over time, the name also became synonomous with “a lady’s maid” or “servant.” How much more perfect can a name be for a loyal, family dairy cow?
If you’ve followed my blog for a while, you know we have been planning to purchase a dairy cow for several years. I love my goat milk, but miss my cow cream! We decided to do both. Our ideal was a miniature jersey, which you can read more about in a previous post, found here. After a lot of research, I found a breeder willing to work with our timeline, and was put on her waiting list. Then, last fall, she found out her entire miniature jersey herd had a bovine disease known as BLV–sort of comparable to HIV in humans. Obviously not what I wanted to start with. So, after we got settled in here at Red Gate, I resumed my search, and she put me on her list for a mid-sized Jersey. Thankfully I did find another first, as just a few days later, I found out that I made it to the top of her list, a heifer finally became available, and she apparently sold it to someone else before even giving me a chance. It could’ve been a long wait if I’d stuck with her!
For us, not just any cow would work. Unfortunately, as modern dairy practices took shape beginning about a century ago, common dairy cows had a protein gene that began to mutate. You can find more detailed info elsewhere, but essentially, this mutation of the casein protein is often to blame for digestive issues and lactose intolerance in humans. There are some dairy cows still out there, however, that do not possess the mutated gene, now known as the A1 gene. The purer, original gene, known as A2/A2, is more desirable. Interestingly, goats are A2/A2, as are most beef cattle, as they never developed the mutated A1/A1 or A1/A2 gene. This may well be a big reason why people who can’t handle cow milk can often drink goat milk just fine. Apparently, the gene is fairly limited to dairy cows like Holsteins, Jerseys, Brown Swiss, Guernseys, and others that have been bred more for the large dairy industries where high production levels are desirable. In any case, regular genetic testing for this gene is a relatively new concept. As a result, A2/A2 cows are difficult to find, and if found, they are rarely for sale. I spread the word to everyone I could think of regarding what I was looking for. Because some of our children have shown tendencies toward lactose intolerance, we had decided we would only purchase an A2/A2 cow.
Somehow, obviously a God thing, an Amish guy I’ve never met, who lived in a small Amish community several hours from us, found out about our search. He passed word along, and offered an opportunity we couldn’t resist. His family had a standard sized Jersey milk cow which had a heifer calf last fall. They had decided to sell the calf, now 9 months old. Amazingly (why are we always amazed when God is at work?!), he had just had the calf tested for the casein protein gene, and she came back A2/A2. There was a problem though. One day, when she was a young calf, they had put her into a stall to catch her, and she wound up ramming her eye into a bolt sticking out of the wall. She was permanently blinded on that side, so he was offering to sell her for a steal of a price. Let’s just say, even with the blind eye, I would have happily paid triple just to get the genetics.
Now, doing business with Amish can be quite an experience. To this day, I’ve never met or spoken with the owner. At Horse Progress Days, we probably stood within a few yards of each other at some point during the day, but failed to actually meet. All questions, answers, and arrangements were done through an Amish friend of a his who was allowed to have a phone in his business. I would call and leave a voicemail with my question. Eventually, the friend would call back with an answer. And that’s how it went for a couple weeks. Through this route, it was arranged for a vet to come check her out for me, as she was far enough away I had to commit without seeing her first. She got a full health and conformation check, a BVD test, and he checked her paperwork. Knowing I was a total newbie to cows, the vet was also willing to give his honest opinion of how appropriate she would be for our family. She passed all tests with flying colors.
We arranged a ride home with another friend, and she’s now been here for a week. To let her get to know us, I’ve kept her seperate from the other, wilder, beef cows we have, and she has taken to us with no problem. She adores people, but can get a bit playful sometimes, so I have to watch the kids around her. She is such a sweetheart though! Those sweet Jersey eyes and that loving disposition just melts my heart. She will follow me like a puppy wherever I go, wants only to be scratched (especially on her neck and under her chin), lets me pet her all over her belly and udder area, and is even halter broken already! I am learning to watch out when I lead her. She gets so comfortable walking with me, that if she gets me on her blind side, she will sometimes run right into me accidentally. Even so, at roughly 500 lbs, she’s a lot bigger than I am! I have to be careful to always know where she is, since she doesn’t always care where I am and so I don’t run her into something. I accidentally ran her right into a rebar fence post yesterday while leading her, as it was just past centerline on her blind side, and she didn’t see it. OOPS! I’ve also given the kiddos special instructions about always talking to her as they approach, to ensure they don’t startle her.
Now, I just have to figure out who to breed her to this fall! She is a standard-sized Jersey, with her dam being roughly 48 inches tall. So not huge, but not a mini either. I have easy access to a Lowline bull, which would create a Jey-lo calf, an increasingly popular, but still widely unknown beef/dairy hybrid. Then there’s a top of the line Dexter bull, which would give something akin to a large Belfair calf, another increasingly popular, but largely unknown all-purpose breed for the homestead. I also have access to a standard sized Jersey bull. By far the most valuable calf (if it was a heifer) would be a cross with a mini-Jersey bull of A2/A2 genetics, which would produce a mid-sized Jersey (around 40-44 inches at maturity). If it was a heifer, I could also continue to breed down to get my own miniature. Of course, the problem there is I have no clue where to find one of those unless I do A.I. Oh, decisions, decisions! Guess I’ll cross that bridge when she gets a bit older. For now, I’m just gonna love her and keep getting to know her.