The Bad Bread
By Stuart Cheney
I guess it was back in ’96, things were going pretty well. I was driving the milk truck and Fred was running the farm. Calves weren’t worth anything though, and Fred asked if he could keep some of the bulls and raise them, as we weren’t having many heifers.
About the time he began keeping the bull calves, I was able to bring home waste milk that comes out of the hose on the back of the truck. Every truck has from one and a half to four gallons of milk that goes down the drain, but if you have something to put it in you can have it. Fred was also getting bread from a nearby bakery, a whole seven foot by ten foot trailer load every-other day. It was a lot of work but it paid off handsomely. He had some kids come in the afternoon or evening and he’d back the trailer up-stairs on the barn floor and they’d take the wrapper off and throw it down the hole into the feed cart. Everybody got some, fed by size. The cows each got a loaf and weaned calves got three or four slices. Worked well; the calves grew and grew.
Some feller came around, said he was from a big garbage company up in Maine and they had a contract with the bakery to get rid of their old bread. He said they’d deliver a whole big dumpster load for $50. So Fred had them bring up a load, they dumped it right where we wanted it, he gave them $50, and they left. I went and looked at the bread, and it had been compacted with the wrappers still on it. I thought to myself, “Wonder why they did that.”
Well, it snowed about a half inch that night that was in April. The next night I was home and had just gotten into bed when the phone rang—it was Fred. He said Danny, my nephew, had gone to feed some grain to the dry cows and big heifers (31 in all) and they wouldn’t come down to where he was. Fred shut the milkers down and went out back to see what was going on.
It was a misty night with a little snow in places. There was also a heavy moon trying to shine through the fog. Fred found six or seven animals down and they didn’t seem able to get up. That’s when he had called me, told me the situation, and I told him to call the vet.
Well the vet came, and long story short, they determined that the cows had alcohol poisoning. It seemed the critters had been reaching under the fence and eating the bread. They had gotten out several times.
Doug Johnstone from the Department of Agriculture had heard about it and he came down to offer any advice that he might have. He told Fred to take the loader and move it all down to the foot of the hill and burn it, which he did. It was during this maneuver that he discovered that underneath all the bread was a sizable pile of raw dough.
The cows must have smelled the fermenting dough and were reaching way in under the wrapped bread, which was slippery and half frozen. When they got a good mouthful of raw dough and pulled it out, the wrapped bread would slide down and cover up the dough again, which is why we didn’t notice it until it was too late.
The whole thing added up to about seven or eight cows dying. Lots of others were affected only it didn’t kill them. It affected any cows that were going to be freshened within the next ninety days or so. In the end we had to dispose of them.
Fred had a friend whose name was Dan who is or was a computer “whiz kid”. Dan contacted everybody who was anybody and we got tremendous support from all over. We even got offered financial support from two large feed companies. He also contacted a lawyer who said we should definitely sue. The lawyer also said we should wait until the statute of limitations ran nearly out, which would be three years. So we waited three years.
By the time the lawyer said it was time to do something I think it was August of ’99. He called a meeting and outlined what was going to take place. There would be a meeting at the end of August between our lawyer, the bread feller’s lawyer, and the judge to see if the case had “Merit”. Long story short, we found out our lawyer never showed up for the meeting so the judge set a new date for another.
Well, Dan got to wondering one day how things went at the meeting so he called the courthouse and asked if they would send him a copy of the minutes. He was told there was no such thing because our lawyer never showed up, again. Dan was dumbfounded. They also said the judge dismissed the case. Now Dan was really sick. He had a lady friend who was a lawyer downtown and a really sharp cookie. He called her up and told her the story.
She was looking at her calendar while Dan was talking and she said, “Dan, you have 30 days to appeal this ruling and according to my calculations 30 days is up today. It’s 4 PM now. The courthouse closes at 5. Get yourself up there and call me as soon as you do. I’ll tell you what to do.”
Well, Newfane is fifteen or more miles away, but he made it. At the courthouse, everybody was just zooming out, about to head home, but good ole Dan! He got them all turned around and used their phone to call his lawyer friend.
The outcome of it all was we got ourselves a new lawyer. After some reorganizing, we made a trip to White River to finish our depositions, then later to Woodstock where we met with a mediator. This is where you get a chance to settle out of court.
When we got to the mediator’s office, my lawyer and I were put in one room, while the other guy, his lawyer, and his insurance rep sat in another room. The mediator went over to the other side and told them, “Write down how much you’re going to pay the Cheney’s” and they started with $5,000. He brought it up to us and we told them no, and it went back and forth like this until the mediator said, “OK, I don’t think they’re going to go any higher.”
I kept saying no, three more times near the end there, and the old guy was getting pretty upset with me and so was Fred. But I knew how far I should go, and I was also pretty sure how far they’d go too. So I stuck to my guns. The last time the mediator told me to take the number because it would be the last offer. I thought to myself, “This is my show, not yours, buddy, and we’ll see.” So I wrote down my final figure and they accepted it.
Ask me what it was and I’ll tell you sometime. My little secret, it might be worth knowing.
Stuart Cheney grew up on a 145 acre diversified farm near Brattleboro, VT. He resides on the farm in a small 5 room house built by his grandfather in 1940.