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Sunday, January 29, 2012

Tribute to a Cow, DMC (1997-2012)

We received news recently from Bundibugyo that our longtime dairy cow, Dairy Milk Chocolate (DMC) died.

"Where your treasure is, there will your heart be also." (Matthew 6:21)

We invested much sweat and money (for medicine, food, local labor) to keep the milk flowing from DMC's udders for the good of our children and our team over many years. Basic investment and return -- turning our money into fresh milk. But investing in a living creature has a consequences and I (Scott) have found that leaving behind my dairy cow was arguably the most difficult aspect of uprooting from our home in Bundibuygo. So, this week I traveled down memory lane revisiting the years with our friend and sustainer.

This story begins in the post-ADF war days of 1999-2000 when our mechanic (and farming consultant) in Fort Portal had some personal problems and needed to raise some cash. We had talked with him about bringing one of his dairy cows to Bundibugyo and this was an opportunity for him to make us good on our promise. So, Pat and I purchased one of his young cows for about $250. Pat chose the name based on the color of our cow which resembled Uganda's favorite milk chocolate bar. We gave him the money, but let him keep the cow since our pasture wasn't ready and the security of Bundibugyo didn't seem conducive to keeping domestic animals.

Several years passed. Our mechanic had improved his financial situation, but eventually cycled into deeper and more complex personal problems. At one point, this friend had lost everything (wife included) except his two children and DMC. It's the only thing he had to feed his two young children. At that point, I said "Keep the cow. It's my gift to help you sustain your family." Eventually, he turned his life around. His wife returned, he repented of the behaviors which led him into crisis and loss. But eventually he needed help to rebuild his business and re-buy a set of tools so he could begin to work as an auto mechanic again. So, he approached me (I had bought out Pat's shares because of her personal need for cash!) and asked me if I would be willing to buy DMC-- again!! I agreed - but decided that I wanted immediate delivery. I wanted my twice-bought redemption cow. So, we prepared: fenced the pasture, built a milking shelter, constructed a feeding trough and water trough, bought milking buckets and storage containers. No small additional investment. We took delivery of DMC in December 2005. She was giving milk at the time - for which we were so thankful. There's nothing like a bucket of warm frothy fresh milk which you've squeezed out yourself.

Things all seemed to be going well for several months, but the milk abruptly changed quality about eight to nine months after we got her. At one point it almost solidified in the bucket. About this time, Matt Alison and I undertook a bike ride over the Rwenzori mountains to Fort Portal, a blistering 100 kilometer ride. Halfway across the mountains, I called home on my cell phone. Julia answered, "Dad you won't believe it!" I'm thinking, what about me? Don't you want to ask Dear Old Dad how the brutal bike ride is going? Instead I patiently asked, "Julia, what is it? What happened?" She exclaims, "DMC PRODUCED!!" (translation: gave birth). "What!!!!" Long story short: Our mechanic had attempted artificial insemination the month before he brought DMC to Bundibugyo - but never told us! Despite her ever-widening girth, buckets full of custard-like colostrum in our milk bucket - we still never put it together -- until a calf popped out. Whoops.

We named that calf "Ghiardelli" - in honor of his dark chocolate color. We had no use for him (pasture seemed too small and I couldn't really imagine raising him for the purpose of steak) so we took him to our friend's farm in Fort Portal (after a few months of bottle feeding).

In order to keep milk flowing, a dairy cow must keep getting pregnant. Ideally, 6-9 months after her last calving, she's bred again. With no electricity and no cows in Bundibugyo, artificial insemination was not possible so we were forced to bring a sire. Our farming consultant in Fort Portal gladly sold us a stud who we named Sir-Loin. We hoped that his loins would procreatively keep us supplied with fresh milk - but without the same emotional attachment we had for DMC. We intended to let him do his work -- and then eat him. He was a good steer. Mean as all get-out. He got out of the fence a few times and ran down to Nyahuka creating sheer pandemonium. No one had ever seen such a strong and fierce animal. Unfortunately, he developed a joint infection which killed him before we could ever eat him. His daughter (and DMC's second offspring for us), we named "Truffle", for her swirling mixture of whites and browns.

DMC's next husband, came from a local herd. I was done with ridiculous cost and headache of bringing animals from Fort Portal. In my mind, we just needed a pregnancy - not a Kentucky Derby stud. On one of my local bike rides I spotted a healthy looking guy with Texas longhorns and a wizened shepherd. I sent my negotiator. For $15, we rented the guy for a month. We called him Shadow since he never left DMC's side. Insatiable he was. And effective. Nine months later DMC gave birth to "Oreo" (named for her black and whites sandwiched together).

Shadow did come back for a repeat performance this time with both DMC and Truffle. Polygamy is common in Uganda - and it was darn convenient for us. Mother and daughter delivered after we left Bundibugyo. Truffle continues the legacy of her mother providing milk and for the entire Bundibugyo Team.

DMC. Some called her "Dr. Myhre's Cow". In Uganda, DMC is also an abbreviation for "Dangerous Mechanical Condition" ("You see that DMC truck in Nyahuka this week…man, that muffler needed replacement!").

She was as gentle a milk cow that ever trod in Uganda. She was God's provision for us and to Him I am thankful for the privilege of having her.


Pamela said...

DMC will certainly be missed!

Jennifer and Bob said...

Sorry to hear about DMC! I remember being blessed with some of her milk on a Bundi visit with young children!

Wendy said...

"oh no" was my first response to your headline. Thank you for writing about DMC. I'm thankful for her life and productivity, and know she provided so much for all of the team in many ways over the years.