Farming Heartbreak

I sat next to that new life with so much hopelessness. “What do we do?” I asked my husband. “We’ve done what we can do. Can’t save them all.” To which I responded, “I don’t buy that.” He looked at me in a way to say I understand this is hard, but this is life.

I went to bed that night without much success of sleep. My mind raced, I prayed, and I felt sick with the looming reality. Around 5 a.m. I stopped trying to force sleep and went out to check on the calf.

This calf was born just three days before from a veteran cow without complication or any indication that something might be wrong. Two days later, Cody noticed the weak condition and lack of weight. He obviously was not nursing. I hurried to the store to purchase a bottle, colostrum replacement, and feeding tube. This is our fourth calving season and until this point, we had no need for those items.

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Calves are pretty hearty creatures. They quickly gain strength to stand just minutes after birth and begin nursing. They just know. The same is true for the mamas, even the first timers. This year I had the opportunity to witness two births–something that had never aligned in previous years with nearly two dozen calves introduced to the farm. Ellie and Discovery both blessed me with the opportunity to watch God’s perfect design and nature’s miraculous harmony.

Occasionally in conversation when people learn we are ‘hobby beef farmers’ they are often intrigued by what that takes. They expect long hours on the farm, pulling calves and constant feeding and herd monitoring. There are long days and no shortage of chores. And certainly, we could fill the days with farm-related activities if we did not have other obligations.¬†The reality is we are spoiled with a very functional setup and we take a natural approach to farming which limits inputs.

With each new addition, I am in awe at how it just happens. And I am grateful that we can foster what nature intended.

But we have experienced farming heartaches when harmony is missing.

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As I walked outside I could hear the cow calling out. Grief set in. When I reached them it was obvious he was gone. Mama stood over him and let out low moans and groans, over and over. Her hopelessness and desire weighed down on me. I don’t know how long he had been gone, but she stood there with him encouraging him to no avail. The evening before I swear she looked at me in a way that suggested she wanted my help. Helpless, I prayed that our intervention would be enough, but it wasn’t.

It was Mother’s Day. While I know cows don’t celebrate or understand this holiday, I still thought it was a pretty crappy day to have this happen to her. And I wished so much that we had noticed a problem sooner. I stood in the barnyard and sobbed out loud protected from anyone seeing or hearing other than my cow and dogs. So many emotions rolled through me. From the unfairness of it all to the feelings of a mother unable to control the world around her. I looked at her swollen utter and was reminded of the days after we lost James when my milk came in and I too was uncomfortable with engorgement but had no baby to feed. The miscarriage of a calf earlier in the year and now the loss of this young, fragile life reminded me of the hurt of our own pregnancy losses–not that it takes much to remind me.

Our naming system is on the letter G this year. I named him Grant. He was only granted to us for a short while.

A saying I was introduced to when we started this adventure, and one I am not particularly fond of, is, “if you have livestock, you’ll have dead stock.” Farm losses are common and part of the business. Many farmers lose calves each year. We’ve been fortunate to grow a healthy herd and experience very few complications. Perhaps it’s an odds game… that is hard to buy, too. Perhaps I’m too soft. But I know all too well that lives planned for are never guaranteed and that loss is a part of life.

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