I pulled in the drive and looked over at the bottle calves pen to see “Strawberry” wagging her tail like a dog and “Ferdinand” stretched out and still. Calves like to trick you. You think they’re dead, laying flat and lifeless basking in the sun. 9 times out of 10 they’re alive and playing opossum. Today was the one out of ten. Ferdinand had died while I was at work.
Ferdinand hadn’t been quite right from the day he was born. He was rather slow, but he continued to gain strength and personality and quite frankly we thought we were on the right path. However, the night before he wouldn’t eat. We pumped him full of electrolytes and prayed for the best. That morning he was alive but by the time evening rolled around he had died and gone to heaven. My daughter said, “mom did Ferdinand go to that headstone place, where Pa Pa Larry is?” In my daughters’ eyes it’s not a cemetery or heaven it’s the “headstone place”.
My son shows a bottle calf for 4-H. This year we were lucky enough to have two calves within days apart from one another that needed a bottle. Our daughter latched on to “strawberry” (which truth be told was the calf our son needed to show), and our son was left with Ferdinand. Which in all honesty, my son didn’t mind? Really, the calf’s personalities matched our children. Strawberry is ornery, full of life and full of sass- like our daughter. Ferdinand was quiet and calm like our son.
So, the night when we went out to feed Ferdinand and found him not in a good state, I knew I probably needed to have a little talk with Grady. On farms we witness life and death, well sometimes daily. This year alone we lost nine calves during our spring calving season. I was just sure our soft-hearted son Grady would be a mess when little Ferdinand died. I was sure of it. I was shocked when he said, “Mom I know that’s part of farming, sometimes things don’t go our way and bad things happen”. My jaw dropped. He continued saying “he was sick and now he’s not in pain”.
As producers we sometimes get blamed for poor treatment of our animals. But lord if those people could only look into the eyes of my seven-year-old who just lost his 4-H bottle calf they might think different. Those little animals are our livelihood. Those mommas losing their babies were babies we raised ourselves. It’s a hard feeling to describe when you lose a calf. Part of you knows, as a producer it’s just part of it. Part of you cringes thinking about it, the loss of the animal and the loss of a future paycheck. Those cows that you’ve poured your heart, sweat and tears into just lost their baby. Your baby just lost her baby. Okay, maybe that’s going a little overboard. But that’s what those animals mean to us.
The fact that my seven-year-old, without a tear in his eyes was telling me that’s part of it, in a weird way made me proud. We don’t want our kids to hurt. We don’t want them to see the bad in life. In our industry though we must. We all experience death at some point in our life. Children of farmers and ranchers may experience it earlier and on a larger scale.
Maybe that’s what it is with farmers, from the get-go we witness both sides of things. We witness a calf being born but we also witness a mother standing over her newborn calf who was stillborn refusing to leave its side. We witness the blessings and tragedies. The good and the bad.
Life on the farm is NEVER perfect but it’s a playground for learning life lessons. My seven-year-old put another notch in his belt of deaths on the farm and I learned my children are watching, learning and taking it all in. They’re watching us move on. In the words of my seven-year-old- “that’s part of farming, things don’t always go our way” but we get back up and move on to another day.
Just found your site after hearing you on Rob’s show. Wow, what a great and insightful piece. We lost a bottle calf named Ferdinand last year as well. I found him cast in the feed bunk. It’s a gut wrenching feeling. Thanks for sharing and being so open.