ã 1998, Elaine C. Stevens
Note: This is the true story of Daisy's mother,
Ol' Jerz. It is a little lengthy, but I think it is worth the time it takes to read
it. Our animals have taught us so many lessons in life; this is the story of one of
The story of Ol'
Jerz began in the spring of 1995. No, actually it began way before then. It began more
than forty years ago when a little girl used to visit her grandparents who lived in the
mountains of east Tennessee.
My parents were both born and raised in the mountainous,
remote area of east Tennessees hill country which was, and still is, known as part
of the Appalachian Poverty Area. Campbell County is still the poorest county in Tennessee,
but conditions are much improved over the way things were when my parents were young. My
father, Harold Wayne Chapman, the eldest of five surviving children of Iva and John
Chapman, was born and raised at Duff, Tennessee. His family was not wealthy but were not
dirt poor, either, thanks to the good salary John earned as a lumber inspector and the
fact that there werent so many children in their family. Luther and Carrie Loveday
Kirby lived for several years in Westbourne, commonly known as "Sawmill Holler",
Tennessee. My mother, Ollie Mae Kirby Chapman, was the fifth of nine children born to
Luther and Carrie. Luther, a coal miner, worked long hard hours in the dark mines trying
to earn enough to provide for his growing family. Most times, he owed the company store
more than his "script", or pay voucher, was for that time period. And just about
the time he and Carrie thought they might have a few dollars to spend, the miners
union would call for a strike, and then it would be weeks without any work at all. This
always seemed to happen in the spring before the garden was producing, and after all the
food stored for the winter had been eaten. To say times were hard is an understatement.
There were times that my mother and her family knew actual hunger and if it had not been
for donations from neighbors they would have had nothing to eat. But one thing they could
usually count on was that they would have milk and butter from their faithful, dependable
milk cow. Now back in those days a milk cow was a very important part of the family. Not
only did she supply milk, butter, and buttermilk, but about once a year she produced a
calf which provided the only beef my mother ever had. The family cow was gentle, friendly,
much loved, and provided a listening ear for the frustrations and tearful confessions of
children who due to the size of the family and the living conditions, a lot of times felt
like the family cow was the only friend they had. She never scolded or complained, just
listened with her wide brown eyes, calmly chewing her cud, as the children brushed her
hair, hugged her neck, and told her their deepest, darkest secrets.
By the time I was born, my parents had moved from the
mountains to the South in search of a better future. But about twice a year, at Christmas
and usually once in the summer, we would make a trip "home" to Tennessee and
visit with my Kirby grandparents for about a week. This was the highlight of my childhood;
I eagerly anticipated each visit. Once we were on the road I thought we would never get
there, and I always hated to come back to Georgia.
The time spent at Sawmill Holler will always remain one
of my fondest memories. I can see it now as if it were yesterday. I can hear the crunch of
the tires on the gravel road that led from Duff to Westbourne. Now we make a right turn
and cross the railroad tracks. (Careful, or the car will drag.) Then we ease up the
narrow, one lane path to Sawmill Holler and park the car at the bottom of the hill (no
driveways back then - nobody had cars in Sawmill Holler). We blow the horn to let everyone
know weve arrived, and here they all come, running down the path down the hill, to
greet us. I remember having to stretch a little bit to get high enough to see out the side
window. And theres the house - that wonderful house - just like it was the last time
- unpainted, on "stilts" in the front, perched on the hillside as if at any time
it might roll off. Four rooms wonderfully wallpapered with old newspapers from which I
obtained a good education on current and past events. I loved reading the wallpaper. And
what was the most "fun" place of all - the old outhouse. I couldnt
understand why Mama complained so about having to use it - I thought it was wonderful.
Such a challenge, and so different!! Although it did get a little cold at Christmas....
The black lung Papaw Kirby had developed forced him to
retire early from the mines, so he was always home when we visited. He took me on walks to
the barn to see the mule. (I was always fond of animals of any kind.) I loved Mamaws
chickens and begged her to let me go with her to gather the eggs. I loved my uncles and
aunts and they provided great entertainment, but now I can confess that what I looked
forward to for months, and couldnt wait for, was to go with Mamaw Kirby to milk the
Going To Milk The Cow was the crowning event that
occurred two times a day, once early in the morning and again about dusk. Even the
adventure of walking the two miles down the rocky road and then up the mountain to the
spring and carrying water back for Mamaw to use couldnt hold a candle to Going To
Milk The Cow. It was glorious, exhilarating, and fascinating to a six year old. Mamaw
would say, "Okay, lets go", get her bucket and little stool, and away
wed go. Sometimes the cow would be up at the barn, other times she would be over in
the little pasture. Wherever she was, wed go to her, Mamaw would talk to her softly,
the cow would answer in her own language, and then Mamaw would sit down on her stool, wipe
off the cows udder with a damp cloth, and begin to milk. Her strong supple fingers
would play the cows teats like a concert pianist does a piano. Streams of warm,
fragrant milk burst from the faucets, pinging the bottom of the bucket. After a few
minutes of milking, when a small amount had gathered in the bucket, the streams began to
make a richer, fuller sound and soft, bubbly foam would cover the milk. I would watch,
spellbound. Mamaw would try to show me how to milk, and sometimes, miracles of miracles, I
would be able to produce a few drops of milk. The old cow always knew when someone
different was milking her and she would turn around to look at me, clearly questioning my
ability. Every once in a while she would swish her tail at imaginary flies, and her tail
would wrap around Mamaws head as she bent forward against the cows flank,
seriously emptying the milk source. Mamaw would have a few choice words to say, the cow
would turn around to look, then the cow would turn back around and start eating and Mamaw
would resume milking. I always thought the cow did this to complain about somebody
handling her private parts.
If I was real good, stood still while she milked, and
was very quiet, Mamaw would give me the ultimate reward. "Open your mouth,"
shed say, and immediately it would pop open like a baby birds. Then shed
point the teat toward me and out would shoot a stream of milk at least six feet long. Most
of the time her aim was true. How she did it, I dont know. Sometimes she would just
get close and milk would splatter all over my face. When this happened Mamaw would almost
fall off her stool laughing.
One time while we were visiting, Mamaw and I went to
milk the cow late one afternoon, and Mama went along with us. I was standing right behind
the cow, spellbound, watching Mamaw work her magic. All of a sudden the cow lifted her
tail and began to let go of some of the cool, mountain spring water she had consumed
during the day. The ground happened to be hard there and the output splattered all over
me. I couldnt believe what was happening. I was horrified to have cow pee pee on my
clothes and was so shocked I couldnt say a word. Both Mamaw and Mama laughed until
they cried over that one. But it didnt stop me from Going To Milk The Cow with
I remember the last milk cow Mamaw Kirby had very well.
Bossy was no ordinary milk cow. Mamaws parents, D. P. (David Preston) and Mary Jane
Loveday, operated a dairy on the Clinch River just below Clinton, Tennessee, and they had
Jersey cows. The cow Mamaw had got into some acorns one fall, bloated, and died. This was
a very sad day for the Kirbys because they knew it would mean no butter, milk, or beef for
a long time, because they certainly didnt have the money to buy another milk cow.
Then one day Paw Loveday came up the hill leading a young Jersey heifer, and gave her to
my grandmother. This was the milk cow she had when I was a girl, and that I remember so
Time flew by and all too soon I was a teenager. Mamaw
and Papaw, both older now, had sold their wonderful place at Westbourne and moved closer
to civilization. Mamaw sold her milk cow saying she was too old to milk any more. I still
liked to visit them in their home but it was not the same. As I grew up I continued to
love animals of all kinds and I wished above all else that I could have a milk cow like
Mamaws. Over the years every time someone mentioned a milk cow, I would see
Mamaws Jersey in my mind.
When I reached mid life finally Fate smiled on me and I
was blessed to live on a farm and could have cattle, and animals of all kinds. I
didnt did have my Jersey, though, because we raised beef cattle, and a Jersey just
didnt fit in. But I continued to think about one and wish.
One March afternoon when Roger
checked our cows, he found
that Big Red, my Shorthorn cow who was heavy with calf, was up to her neck in a bog and
could not get out. He and a friend worked until 2:30 in the morning to free her, only to
find that she could not walk. They brought her to the barn and bedded her down. A
veterinarians examination the next day revealed that she had suffered a back injury
and probably would never walk again.
Big Red was a fighter so we decided to give her a
chance. We built a scaffold and lifted her up every day to try to strengthen her leg
muscles. She ate and drank as normal, but could not stand. About a month later when we
went into the barn to feed one night, we noticed that Big Red was in labor. We watched and
assisted as she gave birth to a fine, healthy, solid red heifer whom I named Ruby. Big Red
cleaned and wanted to mother the calf, but she could not rise, and had very little milk.
We gave Ruby milk replacer to get her started, but what were we to do? Here was a fine
heifer calf which was especially valuable to us, and we both worked day jobs so bottle
feeding her was virtually out of the question.
A friend suggested we get a nurse cow to raise her, and
he recommended a Jersey because they are known to be gentle and exceptional mothers -
theyll raise virtually any calf, no matter if its theirs or not. He gave us
the name of a man who owned a dairy about forty miles from here, and he milked Jersey
cows. I wanted to get excited but wouldnt let myself because I didnt want to
We called the dairy and sure enough, he had a Jersey cow
available. She was three years old, just didnt produce enough milk for a dairy but
would be fine for what we needed. We made an appointment to go look at her. We drove down,
optimistically taking the stock trailer. I took one look at the Jersey and knew she was
the one. She was gorgeous - honey colored, large brown liquid eyes with the gentleness
Jerseys are noted for, fat, slick, and shiney. We paid the man, loaded her up, and took
her home. I could not believe it. At last I had a Jersey. And she was an exact replica of
the one my Mamaw had.
Over the next few months I tried my best to name that
cow some pretty, feminine name. But she always just seemed to be "Old Jerz". So
thats what I called her.
When we unloaded Jerz we put her in the stall with the
newborn calf, Ruby. Oh, she was so pretty. Would she care for the baby, or wouldnt
she? We stayed around, unobtrusively, to watch and see. Within a few minutes Jerzs
attention turned to the calf. She did all the usual cow things, sniffed, smelled, then
began to "hum" to it, which is a mother cows talk to her baby. I excitedly
told Roger that Jerz was talking to Ruby. Things were looking good. We left them alone for
the night. The next morning we went to the barn and there was Ruby, greedily nursing Jerz,
who was humming and licking the calf. She had accepted her!! As far as Jerz was concerned,
Ruby was all hers.
We kept Jerz and Ruby in the stall in the barn for
several more days, until they were used to one another and we were sure things were going
to be okay. Big Red was still in the barn and could see Jerz looking after her baby. Big
Red stopped calling to Ruby when Jerz took over the job of mothering. It was like Big Red
knew what was happening, and approved. She then went into a rapid decline and after one
last valiant effort to stand, which failed, entrusted her baby daughter to Jerz and left
Jerz was in heaven. She had had two calves of her own,
but like most dairy cows, had not been allowed to raise them. This one was hers, and she
watched it every minute of every day. Cleaned it, fed it, doted on it. loved it. Finally
the day came to turn them out. When the gate was opened the frisky calf, playful from
being shut up for so long, took off, tail held high in the air, running. Jerz was
horrified. Her baby - the only baby she had been allowed to keep - was running away!! The
calf frolicked along from place to place, with Jerz in mad pursuit, bawling her head off,
calling that calf to come back. The calf was oblivious to Jerzs calls and continued
to run around. Just about the time Jerz would catch up with Ruby, she would take off again
at high speed. Now, one of Jerzs faults was that she was cowhocked -- bad --, and to
see her run was a funny sight. But run she did, after that calf, round and round the
pasture. The calf finally settled down and came back to nurse, and Jerz avoided a nervous
breakdown. But it took several days for old Jerz to get comfortable with her baby being
out of her sight.
Now we had another problem. Jerz was a dairy cow, and
produced milk in abundance. Too much for one newborn calf to drink. So we went to another
dairy and bought a newborn Holstein/Angus cross calf and brought it home to Jerz, who
couldnt believe the good things that were happening to her. Two babies!! Could life
get any better? Yes, it could. We had discovered that Jerz was going to be a mother
herself in a few months.
I was as proud of Jerz as she was her babies. Every day
I went out to look at her and childhood memories would replay through my mind as I rubbed
her soft, honey coat. She had begun to get a little black coloring on her face, which was
even better - my Mamaws cow had black on her face. By this time Mamaw was in a
nursing home. Some days she was oblivious to everything and everyone around her; other
days her mind was sharper than mine. I took a picture of Jerz and her babies and sent it
to Mamaw, along with some pictures of my chickens and sheep. The day they arrived was a
good day for Mamaw and she knew exactly who the pictures and letter had come from, and the
next time Mama talked to her by phone she told her to tell me she loved my Jersey cow and
was glad I had one because I always did love her cow.
As Jerzs impending motherhood approached we weaned
her two adopted babies. Jerz was most upset. Even my husband, who had been around cows all
his life, said he had never seen a cow with as much mothering instinct as Jerz. She
grieved for her babies. Hung by the fence where they were; called to them. So we put her
in the big pasture with the other cows, thinking the company of her kind would make her
happier. She did seem much more content; however, we noticed that Jerzs udder, which
should have been drying up, was not. She continued to produce just as much milk as ever.
That wouldnt do, her calving date was getting close and she needed a rest. One
afternoon I walked out to the pasture to check the calves because we had noticed some
scouring, and also to check on Jerz. I stood there for a long time, just watching the
stock, and then I saw why Jerz wasnt dry and also why our calves were scouring.
Every calf in the herd, regardless of size or who its mother was, was taking a turn
nursing Jerz!! She happily invited anybody who was thirsty to come by for a drink and a
We separated Jerz again and put her in a small pasture
by herself. One afternoon when I came in from work I noticed that Jerz was not alone. I
hurried down to discover an exquisite, beautiful newborn heifer calf and a proud and
ecstatically happy Jerz. She had another baby, and her life was complete. I was proud and
happy, too - now I had two Jersey cows. But old Jerz was my favorite.
Jerz cared for Daisy with the same enthusiasm she had
raised her other two babies. Daisy grew and matured into a lovely purebred Jersey heifer.
Even though still young, Jerz didnt seem to hold her weight as well with Daisy and
became a little thin before Daisy was weaned. We turned Jerz into the big pasture where
there was plenty of grass so that she could put on some weight. She did put on about fifty
pounds, then all of a sudden it dropped off. Thinking she just didnt do well on
grass because she had not been raised on it, we brought her back up into the smaller
pasture and began to feed her twice daily to bring her weight back up. She gained a
little, but very little, in spite of all our efforts. We wormed her, treated her,
consulted a veterinarian; everything appeared fine but Jerz just wouldnt gain
weight. Then we noticed a slight weight gain and thought we were on our way to recovery.
Shortly afterwards we also noticed an udder enlargement and discovered to our surprise
that Jerz was going to be a mother again. I was not happy. She was not in the condition I
would have liked her to be in prior to calving. She was happy, alert, and eating normally,
but we couldnt get her weight up. The vet told us that Jerseys are naturally rather
bony, but my instinct told me that something was wrong with my beloved Jerz.
In June, much, much sooner than I would have liked, Jerz
became supremely happy again with the birth of her small red son. Jerz just was not happy
without a baby. She continued to eat well but also continued to lose weight. We did
everything we knew to do but Jerz was definitely on a decline and what was so frustrating
to me was that we couldnt find out the cause.
When Jerzs son was about two months old, I went
down one afternoon and saw that Jerz was no longer able to feed her baby. Not that she
didnt try, there just wasnt any milk there. It was taking all Jerzs
energy just to sustain herself and there was none left to manufacture milk with. I was
distraught -- and then I remembered that "Big Mama", our huge, extremely gentle
Hereford cow, had calved about a week before. Would she be willing to mother Jerzs
calf, even though she had never been a foster mother before? We would have to try it.
We brought Big Mama and her calf up to the small lot
where Jerz and her baby were, and introduced them to each other. Everybody seemed to like
everybody else just fine. So we left them alone. Jerzs calf, by now very hungry,
immediately spied Big Mamas full and convenient milk supply, and helped himself. Big
Mama didnt care. She began to care for the new baby just like it was her own. A very
weak Jerz stood over in the corner of the lot, watching. She talked to her baby, but the
tone of her sounds was not urgent, like she was calling him to her, it was more comforting
By the next day it was evident that Jerz had entrusted
the care of her baby to Big Mama. She no longer called to him, but continued to watch him
devotedly, seeming content that her baby was being fed and mothered. I believe she
understood that she could no longer care for him, and that someone else was going to have
to do it for her. Suddenly I saw that things were coming in full circle. Just as Ol
Jerz had taken over for Big Red when she couldnt care for Ruby, now Big Mama was
returning the favor by taking over the care of Jerzs calf for her.
The next afternoon Roger came in from doing chores and
told me that Jerz was fading fast. We talked about easing her exit from our world but I
just could not bring myself to do it. I kept thinking that maybe a miracle would happen,
and she would get better. I went down to see her, and I knew it would be the last time. My
beautiful, fat, shiny honey colored cow was reduced to a pitiful sight and suddenly I
wished that she would die, both for her sake and, selfishly, for mine, so that I
wouldnt have to watch her waste away any longer. My wish was granted, for by the
next morning my beloved Jerz was no longer among the living.
I cried many tears over the loss of Ol Jerz. My
heart was broken when she died. It was like my precious childhood memories of my
grandmother and her cows, and of a way of life that is no more, died along with her. Days
went by and I still was terribly grieved over the loss of Jerz. Then suddenly I decided to
write about her, and the telling of her story was wonderful therapy. When the story was
finished, I still missed Jerz but no longer grieved for her. While writing the story, God
helped me see that he had put my Jersey cow here on this earth for a purpose which she had
served well, and then he had rewarded her by supplying a mother for her baby when her job
was over. I, too, had been blessed by being allowed to own a cow like Jerz and seeing her
example of complete and unselfish devotion to those she loved.
I still have Daisy, and she will become a mother soon.
But no matter how many cows I have, nor how many Jerseys, there will never be another one
as special to me as Ol Jerz.