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Parton came to us as an adorable, unnamed little Jersey calf when we bought Dolly.  Though he’s always been enjoyable to have around (usually…sometimes even a cute cow can be annoying), on a farm, everyone has to pull their weight. That meant for Parton, eventually he’d be butchered for beef to feed our family, the cats, and Raven. It’s not something a lot of people want to think about, especially when we get to know each of our animals so intimately, but death it is a fact of life. As the saying goes, for an animal, there’s only one bad day on the farm. I wouldn’t hesitate to say that Parton had an idyllic life, even for a cow. He never wanted for food or water and for a long time, was Dolly’s only son.

Which means she spoiled him. A lot.
Getting a bath from Dolly.

Cows may not be the smartest of creatures (kind of like the turkeys…) but they are extremely curious. That would explain why Parton was always in the middle of everything. Literally. More than once, he slipped into the hay ring so he could take a nap on a thick bed of hay, or reach the best part of the bale.


Whenever I’d go in to get some of that amazing cow fertilizer, there was Parton, sniffing the wheelbarrow and taking an opportunity to scratch an itch.

Heaven forbid he was nearby when Dolly was being milked. He’d stick his head out through the gap in the stall to try and compete with the milker.

It didn’t take long for Parton to be big enough to go out to the pasture with the horses instead of being cooped up in a stall or out back in the pen. So, when the grass started sprouting, out he went.


Except, he really, really hated being led out. It didn’t take long to get his halter on but it was a rodeo trying to lead him to the pasture. He ran, he bucked, he got down on his knees but ultimately, I prevailed. Sometimes, I wish I could talk to animals…I mean, I was putting him out on fresh green grass and wide open spaces! How could he not want to go there?!

And then, he decided he didn’t like the horses. Good thing he’s fast!
Eventually, he made up with the horses (sharing head to head food buckets will do that) and thought they were alright. He’d often graze near them and played a hilarious game with Dancer around the hay ring, where she’d put her ears back, pretending to be ferocious and he’d call her bluff, and give her a nasty look back. It was a ritual they performed every time a new round bale got put out.

Another quirky personality trait Parton exhibited was that he didn’t care much for adults but was fascinated by children. I imagine it was their smaller size but he’d come over to the gate and let the girls scratch him while they threw him dandelions to eat.

Like her sisters, Kate is a natural cow whisperer. 
While keeping animals in is always a challenge–they have a natural inclination that the grass is greener on the other side–Parton was something else. He’d squeeze through, jump over, or break anything he could if it meant he could wander. Thankfully, we adapted with each of his escapes (that, and the fact that he’d never wander far from Dolly, who was always left behind when he escaped) until he got big enough that it wasn’t so easy to squeeze through and we quit finding him in the morning, taking leisurely strolls around the property.

Parton would’ve been happy remaining an only child with Dolly’s attentive doting but to get milk from a milk cow, she has to regularly have calves. Dolly had been running with an angus herd, so we knew shortly after she arrived that she was pregnant. After waiting and waiting and waiting, out came Woody. Parton took to Woody like the best big brother. They spent countless hours headbutting each other, napping, and mooing in unison when Dolly was inside to be milked. I find it terribly interesting how much relationships matter to herd animals. They bond so quickly and notice when one of them is missing.


Eventually, after we returned from Nebraska for our annual Christmas trip, it was Parton’s time. Near our house is a small butcher shop that will take care of butchering farm animals, a service we are grateful for. We can handle butchering animals like roosters, and think it’s important for our kids to know exactly where their meat comes from but due to Parton’s sheer size would have made it nearly impossible to butcher him at home.

He enjoyed a last meal of sweet feed, alfalfa, and hay and everyone said their goodbyes the night before we loaded him up on a borrowed trailer. Of course, the weather had to be terrible and we barely made it out of the slick, snow-packed driveway but eventually, we did. At the butcher shop, we backed up to the chute where the animals are intended to run in but Parton had other ideas. He bolted past Jack, who reacted just as fast and literally wrestled Parton to the ground before he escaped out into the nearby neighborhood. Jack received many-a-praise from the group of men who came over to help, laughing that Jack has a future in the rodeo business. With a little more coaxing, he went in the building, the door was shut, and that was that.

I won’t even pretend I didn’t cry. I’m fully aware we sent an animal to his death, which is a heavy responsibility–and it should be. We eat meat and have several animals who do, too, so it stands to reason that it should hurt a little to know that we’re all well-fed because of another creature’s sacrifice. Parton will be put to good use, feeding us for a year or so, and every bit of him will be put to good use, from his hide, which Jack has already begun processing, to the bones Raven will get to gnaw on, to the smallest scraps of fat and meat that we’ll turn into sausages and meatballs.
It is a little odd to talk about Parton as a piece of meat now (or rather, a freezer full), but we have lots of memories of him and are sure he’s enjoying Heaven, stuffing himself with green grass or running with horses, or whatever cows get to do after this life. Until we meet again, adieu, Parton!

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True stories of raising children, remodeling, braving the elements and plotting out life, all while living on a humble acreage in central Indiana.

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