The Family Cow

Samantha Gasson (Sam to her friends) owns Bull City Farm near Durham, NC with her husband and 3 kids (although the kids aren’t positive they want that association;) The farm, a diversified, pasture-based livestock operation, sells wholesale and retail cuts off farm and through farmers’ markets. They also have a vibrant educational program that includes workshops, camps and classes.


Sam and husband Scott grew their farm from a homestead to a fully fledged business slowly over 11 years all the while honing in on the enterprises that fit their lifestyle and passions. They have made plenty of mistakes, met lots of interesting people and have generally enjoyed the journey.

I really love my jersey cows. I don’t know how to explain it, I just know it to be a fact. I never would have guessed it growing up in the UK on concrete even though I always knew I had animals in my future. I had assumed it would be something mainstream like loads of dogs with maybe a couple of cats, if the 9 yr old me were to see me now, she would squeal with glee. There is nothing I would rather be doing with my life than farming and teaching beginning farmers plus homesteaders how to care for their livestock and poultry.


Our first cow came to us 18 years ago. We had been homesteading for a while with our 3 little kids. We were already milking dairy goats and making cheeses but I wanted to experiment with cow’s milk cheeses. I wanted a cow.


At the time milk prices were high and cows in milk for sale were few and far between but, with the help of our ag agent, we were able to find a cow at a reasonable price. I was beside myself thinking I had just made the best deal of my life. With what we know now we would never have bought an 8 yr old commercial dairy cow who had never even seen a blade of grass in her whole life. Luckily, we didn’t know any better because Sally May turned out to be my first jersey cow love.


Sally was huge and bred for production. By the time she came to us her rear udder attachment ligament was so stretched out that her udder was barely a foot off the ground when full. In addition, she had never had a halter on, never been walked on a lead rope or hand milked. This great deal wasn’t looking as rosy as the days marched on.


In my head Sally would be so grateful for us rescuing her from the sale barn that she would happily frolic in the pasture, stand quietly to be milked and generally add value to our lives. What I wasn’t expecting was to have to invite a group of friends over to help us get her in her milking area because she was petrified of her new home, seriously petrified!


It’s funny to think back to all of us in the dark with no idea about flight zones, pressure points or any clue about herding, trying to coral her with ropes. It was becoming painfully obvious I probably should’ve taken a class or two, attended a workshop or even worked at a local dairy before getting our first cow.


After several hours and lots of sweat we finally got Sally in a stall in our old tobacco barn. Next, I squatted next to her ready to jump out of the way as her kicks became more aimed while Scott, and our loyal friends stood well out of the way. After relieving some of the pressure off her udder I stepped out of the way. Nothing was broken but I had some pretty colorful bruises to show for my efforts.


The next day was much easier, the next even easier and it wasn’t long before we had a rhythm. Not even a month passed before Sally realized that although life on pasture might be different it was pretty sweet being the only cow amongst a herd of goats. She was definitely queen of the ruminants.

I remember the exact moment I fell in love with Sally May. It was sometime mid-January and I had just come home from tutoring. I nursed my youngest, left Scott to put him to bed and headed out to the barn in the dark for the 4th night in a row.  I was worn out! The very last thing I wanted to do was sit on an upturned bucket in the cold and hand milk into an open bucket (this was before the days of my lovely milking machine).


Sally gently mooed as I walked into the cold stall, some of my stress started to melt away. As I sat down, washed her udder and started milking I felt even more of the stress of the day evaporate (it’s just not the same with the mechanical milker). I had just put my head on her flank to absorb some of the heat radiating off her body when Sally reached back and started licking the side of my head just as if I were her calf.

What happened next can be completely blamed on either my nursing hormones or the rough night of tutoring but was probably due to the unique exhaustion that comes from having a newborn….I started to cry.  As I silently sobbed into her side feeling her thick, rough tongue slide up the side of my face and through my hair, I knew without a doubt that I really needed that cow in my life, and probably a shower.


That became our routine, I would start milking and she would give me a lick, sometimes it was a single acknowledgment of my presence and sometimes I left her side with slobber dripping from my hair. I always felt the stress of the day evaporate with each squirt of milk ringing in the bucket.

We have had many cows come and go, most living well into their teens and I’m still as in love as I was that night in the barn. There are many practical reasons why you should give a milk cow a go, beef from their calves, beautiful, creamy milk and gorgeous cheeses but the best reason is their fabulous personalities.


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