SOUTHINGTON — When 18-year-old Grace Strillacci is not in college classes or at work at Agway, she’s taking care of her two cows, Ivory and Naugs.
Everyday around 7 a.m., Strillacci will visit the animals, feeding and grooming them before heading to a full day at Middlesex Community College — where she’s working toward a degree in radiology — or to her job as a cashier at Agway of Southington.
Later, she’ll return to her happy place around 7 p.m., sometimes bathing the two cows or giving them treats, before letting them out to graze through the night.
“I love the country feeling… I have no (cell) service here, so I don't use my phone, I don't touch my technology, I can just breathe at the end of my day,” Strillacci said while at the farm where she keeps her cows.
Strillacci is the sole caretaker for both heifers, who are still non-lactating. Ivory, the first cow she ever owned, is about 2 years old. She leases 1-year-old Naugs, short for Nautilus, as a companion for Ivory. She will be showing both at this weekend’s Durham Fair.
“I saved up all my money (and) I was able to buy a car and a cow at the age of 17,” said Strillacci, who will be 19 in October.
Strillacci got Ivory when she won a bid at the Massachusetts Blue Ribbon Calf Sale, when Ivory was 3 months old. She bought the calf for $1,000.
“It was unreal, really cool, just to feel like you were there, you made it,” Strillacci said about winning Ivory. “... if I didn't stay until the end of the sale or just gave up. (Ivory) was literally the last one.”
The Southington resident said her family has no agricultural background. She realized a love for animals by going to local fairs — the same ones she’s been exhibiting at for more than a decade now. From there, her parents helped her find resources to get more involved.
She eventually found 4-H, a nonprofit that helps kids learn by doing, and started working with Colleen Augur at her Wallingford club, called the Farm River Gang.
“I was really scared at first, I'll be honest, I was terrified as a 6-year-old. I loved farm animals, but handling them was a little terrifying at first, just because I was so small and they were so big,” Strillacci said.
She quickly took to them and hasn’t looked back.
“I am the sole caretaker. I'm doing it all by myself, my parents support me fully, but they don't do the work,” Strillacci said. “It's kind of just me, which is nice, I think being independent and self sufficient, but it's definitely (time consuming).”
For Strillacci, owning a cow is kind of like having a dog or a cat— just bigger.
“I just love having that relationship with (them) and kind of having that bond. It's really like having a big dog. They just bring me so much happiness,” she said.
Like a dog, each cow has their own personality. Ivory is a little more mature and “her own cow,” Naugs can be more playful and curious.
Augur has been Strillacci’s 4-H leader since she started with the group. As a youngster, Strillacci didn’t know anything about cattle or cows.
“She’s really has a lot of maturity to go out on her own… She’s an extremely hard worker,” Augur said. “She’s not afraid to ask for help, to ask anybody that’s in the business how she should be doing it and what she should be doing.”
Melissa Greenbacker Dziurgot, herd manager of her family’s Brookfield Farm in Durham, said it’s unique for someone who comes from a family with no agriculture background to own their own animals as a teen.
Greenbacker Dziurgot runs her own 4-H club and exhibits animals at the same fairs as Strillacci. She said most of the farmers and cattle owners will help each other out at the fairs, so they’ve known each other for several years.
“I think really highly of (Strillacci), she’s a really hard worker… She's always a top notch showman,” Greenbacker Dziurgot said.