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Pincie Creek Australian Shepherds

About our breed

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 them.

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 Tennessee’s 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 weren’t 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 we’ve 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 there’s 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 couldn’t 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 Mamaw’s 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 couldn’t wait for, was to go with Mamaw Kirby to milk the cow.

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 couldn’t hold a candle to Going To Milk The Cow. It was glorious, exhilarating, and fascinating to a six year old. Mamaw would say, "Okay, let’s go", get her bucket and little stool, and away we’d go. Sometimes the cow would be up at the barn, other times she would be over in the little pasture. Wherever she was, we’d 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 cow’s udder with a damp cloth, and begin to milk. Her strong supple fingers would play the cow’s 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 Mamaw’s head as she bent forward against the cow’s 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," she’d say, and immediately it would pop open like a baby bird’s. Then she’d 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 don’t 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 couldn’t believe what was happening. I was horrified to have cow pee pee on my clothes and was so shocked I couldn’t say a word. Both Mamaw and Mama laughed until they cried over that one. But it didn’t stop me from Going To Milk The Cow with Mamaw.

I remember the last milk cow Mamaw Kirby had very well. Bossy was no ordinary milk cow. Mamaw’s 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 didn’t 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 well.

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 Mamaw’s. Over the years every time someone mentioned a milk cow, I would see Mamaw’s 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 didn’t did have my Jersey, though, because we raised beef cattle, and a Jersey just didn’t 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 veterinarian’s 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 - they’ll raise virtually any calf, no matter if it’s 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 wouldn’t let myself because I didn’t want to be disappointed.

We called the dairy and sure enough, he had a Jersey cow available. She was three years old, just didn’t 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 that’s 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 wouldn’t she? We stayed around, unobtrusively, to watch and see. Within a few minutes Jerz’s attention turned to the calf. She did all the usual cow things, sniffed, smelled, then began to "hum" to it, which is a mother cow’s 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 this world.

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 Jerz’s 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 Jerz’s 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 couldn’t 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 Mamaw’s 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 Jerz’s 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 Jerz’s udder, which should have been drying up, was not. She continued to produce just as much milk as ever. That wouldn’t 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 wasn’t 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 bath!!

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 didn’t 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 didn’t 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 wouldn’t 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 couldn’t 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 couldn’t find out the cause.

When Jerz’s 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 didn’t try, there just wasn’t any milk there. It was taking all Jerz’s 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 Jerz’s 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. Jerz’s calf, by now very hungry, immediately spied Big Mama’s full and convenient milk supply, and helped himself. Big Mama didn’t 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 and encouraging.

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 couldn’t care for Ruby, now Big Mama was returning the favor by taking over the care of Jerz’s 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 wouldn’t 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.


Author’s Note: We eventually did determine that Jerz suffered from Johne’s disease, which is an incurable wasting disease of the intestines that is fairly common in dairy cows. Evidently she had it when we got her, but the disease takes a long time to manifest itself so there were no symptoms. Even if we had known from the beginning what her problem was, there was nothing that could have been done for her. - E.S.


Epilogue:  This story was written in 1998.  In June of 1999, my grandmother fell and broke her hip.  She was in very critical condition and we feared the worst, but then like so many times before, my "tough as nails" Mamaw surprised us all by gathering her strength and showing much improvement.  On the night of June June 29, 1999, I went to sleep relieved about the good news we had received.  During the early morning hours I dreamed of my grandmother.  I could see her very plainly, she was wearing the apron she always wore and her skin, always like peaches and cream, was glowing.   She was smiling and said to me, "Come on, let's go milk that cow."   When I woke the next morning I wasn't worried about Mamaw, I felt very peaceful about the situation and had a feeling everything would be all right.  Soon after I woke the phone rang, and it was my mother telling me that Mamaw had quietly and quickly gone to be with her Lord during the night.  Was my dream a coincidence?  Absolutely not.  I know beyond a doubt that my grandmother came to tell my good-bye.  And one day, I'll be along to help her milk that cow.-E.S.




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