Photo: Megan R. Van Dorp, herd manager at Van Dorp Farms in Marion, New York, with her favorite cow, Winnie.
We asked dairy farmer Megan R. Van Dorp to tell us her love story.
It all started when I was about six years old, helping my dad load cows for an auction. There was a big-boned, beautiful brown cow with “eyeshadow” on the truck. I asked my dad what kind of cow that was and he said a Brown Swiss. From then on, all that I wanted was a Brown Swiss cow. My dad called around, but at the time, Brown Swiss heifers were expensive, and we could not afford one. So, we started crossbreeding. After many failed attempts, bull calves, and heart break, I ended up with Winnie, my dream, eye-shadowed cow.
Winnie was not your average cow. She was the gentlest giant that the farm ever had. The running joke was that she thought she was human, because she never did fit in with the other cows. I would walk her on a halter, where she would trot along behind nuzzling my hand. Cars would pull over and kids would get out to pet her. She had all the patience in the world and gathered quite a fan club. I drove home from college every weekend to spend time with Winnie. She was my best friend and confidant. No animal has probably ever received tighter hugs or had more tears dribbled down teenage cheeks into her fur than Winnie.
Winnie wasn’t a fancy show cow or anything. She was a crossbred mutt, and for her last few lactations, she was even a three-teated cow. She was just one of those special cows that I’ll always remember. We have one of her daughters and a granddaughter born in 2020 that looks just like her, but no one will ever beat that old brown cow that watched me grow up.
All of the cows get the same care, and we know their quirks, but there are the special handful of them that leave a hole in your heart when they leave. I tried to make her live forever. She was the first “retired cow” we had on the farm, spending an entire winter living her best life with a horse blanket on. They say favorite cows can’t last forever, so until we meet again, thank you for the memories and for growing up beside me. I love you Winnie!