Friday Night Story

Buy the Cow

Three generations. My daddy's daddy. I always expected some day my son would take over, or at least that he'd manage the business side from his office in some fancy law firm in Boston. I was proud we'd built up to a place my son could follow his dream.

He dropped out of school this semester- I told him he didn't have to, that we were getting along fine with the help we'd hired; it was a damn lie, and he knew it even over the phone. Maybe he was thinking long-term, since the farm was part of the collateral that secured his loan. He's a hard-working boy, too, the match for any hired hand, and I say that to the side of fatherly pride, but it didn't make a lick of difference.

Economy's bad all around, but dairy's worse. Prices fell by a third in two months, down fifty percent since last summer. The price of milk barely covers the cost of feed, without touching other expenses. Even if I had a mind to weather the storm, no one can get credit from the banks- fact it's the opposite, they called in my note on the cows I bought last spring when the prices were good.

Drought last year killed the rye we'd grown for cattle feed (since the cost of corn doubled). An e. coli outbreak killed a quarter of the herd. The melamine-tainted milk in China slashed demand there- even for safe imports. Analysts say local demand depressed because 40% of milk goes to make cheese, and 60% of cheese gets used up in restaurants, but with money tight all around, folks eat out less than they did.

My cows are leaving on a truck; I couldn't force myself to sleep in, so I take one last walk among them. I know these cows, each and every one of them, and they know me- from seeing each other twice a day for milking. And they feel the tension in me sure as my wife does; I stop to stroke the chin of a restless heifer and she catches my eyes. “Sorry, girl,” I tell her. She had years more of good milk to give; instead she'll be hamburger come this time next week.

Wife's already started looking for a job in town; with the money we get off the herd, we should be able to get my son the rest of the way out of law school. Beyond that, I don't know what we'll do, but I can tell you- it's a damn shame.

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