I’ve been trying to figure out where to start this story. Sometimes it’s obvious, but with this story…
First, let me tell you about our cow, Cutie. She’s a sweet little Hereford – orange with a white face and white legs and brisket. She’s not very big, but she has a gentle personality and is one of our “special” cows.
This summer she hadn’t been doing very well – after a cow has raised a calf for seven or eight months, they’re usually pretty run down, but once the calf is weaned, usually the cow fills out, looks a lot better and is doing pretty good by the time she drops her next calf.
But Cutie never really recovered after last year’s baby was weaned. She was just real skinny and never put weight back on.
I suggested to Watson that we should probably sell her, because if she looked that bad before she had her calf, she would only go downhill once it was born.
Well, Watson is a big softie and he loves his girls and Cutie stayed.
She had an adorable black calf with a sweet little white face – a bull. He was small, but healthy.
That was a month ago.
Cutie did okay for a couple of weeks and I thought I might have been wrong, but two weeks ago she started declining pretty rapidly. This past Monday and Tuesday she didn’t eat so Wednesday morning Watson went out to the field to carry her calf in so we could bottle feed him, since when a cow doesn’t eat, she doesn’t produce milk and the little guy would starve to death.
When he had the guy across the four wheeler in front of him, bringing him in, Watson got peed on.
I need to pause here for a minute and back up six weeks.
We had a cow, #54, who freshened before she was supposed to – about six weeks early. I’m not sure at what age a calf is viable, but this guy was tiny – our little premie – but he was able to get up and suck. I’m not sure what the issue with 54 was – why she had him so early – but whatever it was, she just didn’t have much milk.
So, four times a day, I mixed up two cups of milk replacer and drove down to the bottom pasture and fed her calf. He never wanted to suck from the bottle – so it was basically me force feeding this little guy while his mother ate the grain I took down.
Eventually we moved them to the pasture beside the house and gave 54 some extra feed, hoping to stimulate her milk production. I stopped bottle feeding him, and while he wasn’t thriving, he was doing okay.
It’s been dry here so not quite two weeks ago we moved 54 to a pasture by herself where she would have plenty to eat. I think they were there maybe four days before my little premie boy fell off a small three foot high shelf of ground, caught his front foot in a root and hung there all night before the girls found him there on their early morning horse ride.
His leg wasn’t broken, and it didn’t really seem like his shoulder was dislocated, but he couldn’t walk on it, couldn’t bend what we would call his knee or ankle and couldn’t get up from a lying down position.
So, the same day Watson brought Cutie’s calf up to be bottle fed, he went out to the other pasture and brought in my premie boy and 54.
While Watson had my premie on the four wheeler, he got peed on again. : )
When a calf can’t get up, there’s not much chance that he’s going to make it, but we were really hoping that the swelling would go down in his leg and he’d start using it again.
In the meantime, we’d get him up to feed him. He couldn’t walk, but he could stand.
Wednesday of this week, Watson and the little girls went to PA. Julia and I were at the farm in PA, and we had those two calves to take care of, plus Cutie was fading.
Thursday it was 97 degrees at the farm in Virginia.
I was sitting by the window, working on Magical Twilights (the ARC went out Friday) and I happened to look up just in time to see my little premie get up and walk. I almost got up and jumped around – I was SO super excited that this little guy who’d had such a hard time of it was getting better.
I’ll just admit that Thursday morning when I fed him, he seemed worse to me and I had thought he was going to die. Instead, there he was, walking. : )
It was probably two hours later when I took a quarter bottle out to feed him.
He was dead.
Sometimes, right before an animal dies, they get this surge of energy or something and it looks like they’ve made a miraculous recovery.
I guess that’s what happened to my premie.
That was tough, because I’d fought pretty hard for him.
I still had two orphans to feed and Julia fed Cutie’s calf and took care of the horse that’s been sick (a story for another time) and then we went to check on the cows.
Cutie couldn’t take the heat and we found her down by the creek. Dead.
She died with her legs tucked up under her. I’m noting that because when you drag a dead cow with a chain, you usually hook it around her feet. We couldn’t get to her feet.
Even though she’d lost a lot of weight, she still probably weighed 1500 pounds. Plus, she was stiff. And, if that wasn’t enough, she was below about a three foot drop off. It wasn’t going to be easy to drag her out.
The weather forecast said it was going to be 97 degrees again on Friday. (It was right, by the way.)
Cutie was going to blow up and stink. We needed to get her out of there.
I sat on the four wheeler with Julia, staring at Cutie, and not just upset that she’d died, although I was – she was a sweet girl – but honestly, I had NO clue on how to get her out of there.
I mean, do any of you have any ideas on how to move a dead, stiff 1500 pound cow, who had her legs tucked up underneath her, up a three foot cliff and carry her a mile away to a place where she would not be contaminating anything as she decomposed?
I can wait.
As I sat there, I really wasn’t coming up with anything.
I mean, I knew I’d have to drive a tractor or our tele handler, but…maybe I’ve mentioned what a bad driver I am, and I figured getting close enough to the creek to hook a chain on her might involve me actually falling into the creek with the tractor. Also, I’ve never driven our tele handler. I had no clue how to run it.
Plus we needed to do something with my little premie that was lying dead in the side pasture.
I guess right then I felt like I was looking at a job that was too much for me to handle.
Maybe all the death was a little overwhelming, too. Plus the extreme heat. Plus, I’d tried so hard to save 54’s calf, so much time spent bottle feeding and coaxing him to eat and watching him and babying him…to lose him hurt. To lose Cutie, too, well, I don’t quit very well, but I did want to throw my hands up and walk away for a bit.
I wanted to say the heck with it and let Cutie lie there until Watson came back on Saturday.
But, if I did that, she’d definitely be stinking and I didn’t want to have to touch her to put the chain on her (WHERE???) and I knew that would be my job since Watson would be driving whatever piece of equipment we used.
So, I said to Julia, “Let’s get a chain and get it…around her neck. That should work. Then when your dad comes home on Saturday, at least we’ll already have the chain on her.”
Julia agreed, so we went back up, got the Gator, which has a dump bed on it, went to the side pasture and lifted my premie on the back. They’d been using the Gator to spray oil on the fences and it was filthy – the steering wheel, seats, even the gear shift. So, we pretty much were dirty as soon as we sat down.
I don’t know about you, though, but dealing with dead animals makes me feel filthy everywhere, so the dirty Gator just got us filthy faster.
We take my premie up and put him the same place we need to figure out how to get Cutie to.
This is where I admit, a few months ago, I quit drinking Dr. Pepper.
Well, Julia and I decided before we’d put the chain on Cutie, we’d make a Dr. Pepper run. I felt like I needed it. So, yeah, I totally fell off the wagon.
But, as we were driving (it’s a fifteen minute drive to the nearest Dr. Pepper from our house) I was thinking about how I never allowed my kids to quit and how I was always telling them to do the hard thing.
And there I was, going to take the easy way out, not do a job that needed done and leave a huge, stinking mess for Watson do deal with Saturday.
That’s not the kind of person I want to be.
I want to be the kind of person who does hard things. Who doesn’t let a little mountain (or a big one) stop me from doing what needs to be done. I mean, was I really going to be okay sitting around all day Friday, knowing that there was a dead cow to deal with, but not doing anything about it?
You know, God puts hard things in our lives to make us stronger and better. How was I getting any stronger or any better if I didn’t do the job in front of me?
By the time we got back with my Dr. Pepper (and we might have gotten some ice cream, too?) I said to Julia, “We’re gonna get that cow.”
Me: (gets out of the car and puts the ice cream in the freezer and opens a Dr. Pepper. I’m getting the cow, but I’m gonna have a drink, first.)
Me: I haven’t figured that out yet.
So, I drink my soda and I do what any good farmer’s wife does. I call my husband.
Watson is at the fair in Pennsylvania, truck pulling with our boys. There in the Appalachian Mountains of rural PA, the service is terrible, but he’s able to tell me how to start the tele handler, and then he proceeds to tell me how to run it. I understand about every other word. (Did I mention the phone service was terrible?)
It’s a little complicated to explain, but the tele handler has a boom that tele hands out. It also goes up and down in the air, and you can tilt the forks up and down as well.
That’s the short version.
Let’s just say, it took me four years of owning my car before I remembered where the windshield wiper switch was consistently.
I’ll not talk about how terrible I was at running the thing. I will say that I didn’t hit Julia, or anyone or anything else and I made it down to the creek, parking far enough away that I wasn’t in too much danger of falling in. (I was still scared about that. But my go-to fix for being scared is closing my eyes. It usually works.)
It was dark and I really couldn’t see much of anything while I was driving so it didn’t matter much whether my eyes were open or closed for the mile ride down to the bottom of the lower pasture. In theory, I guess.
After we got there, I had to call Watson back because I couldn’t remember how to work the boom. After he tells me he says, “It’s time for me to pull. Call me later and tell me how you made out.” And he hangs up.
Julia and I take the heavy chain, go down and put it around Cutie’s neck.
Man, that’s a simple sentence that doesn’t convey half of what actually happened.
I guess I’d better leave it at that.
We wrap the other end of the chain around the back of the forks and hook it and I say a prayer and start moving the boom back.
I don’t end up in the creek and Cutie comes up over that cliff and she’s lying in the pasture.
Now, I need to somehow get the forks under her and pick her up.
I don’t really have the skills necessary for that, so it took a while and I’m not going to go into detail about the dead cow and me digging into the dirt and I never really did get the forks under her very well. BUT I was able to move her and position the tele handler in such a way that I got out and Julia grabbed her back feet and I grabbed her front and we rolled her over and onto the forks. (For some reason I’m thinking of the movie 9 to 5 and the hospital scene with the cadaver.)
Anyway, she wasn’t on that great and I had to take her about a mile.
Julia: I don’t want to be picking her up a hundred times, so we’re gonna chain her to the forks.
Me: It really makes me feel good to think that you think that I’d actually be able to pick her up a hundred times. (Especially considering it took me about thirty minutes to NOT pick her up that time.)
Julia really wasn’t feeling my sense of humor, though, and she grabbed her end of the chain and started wrapping it around Cutie’s legs, wrapping it around the forks and hooking it tight.
I pulled it tight and did the same to Cutie’s front legs with my end of the chain.
We’d already far more than I thought we were going to be able to.
As we stand back and look at our handiwork, Julia says, “We need gloves for the next time we do this.”
I’m frankly impressed that she thinks there’s going to be a next time and that’s she’s, apparently, willing to do it again.
Me: I probably won’t feel less filthy with gloves, but I still think it’s a good idea. (I’ll just say here that cows that are dead leak liquids. It’s gross, it stinks and I had it all over me. I’m so very thankful for hot water.)
Julia: Let’s just take her to the top of the pasture. She’ll be out of the way and Dad can deal with her when he gets home.
Me: It’s going to be 97 degrees tomorrow. We need to finish this job.
We might have argued a bit about that with me finally saying that she could go back to the house if she wanted to, but I was going to get this cow and put her where she belonged or die trying. (Or something like that. I guess I was being a little dramatic?)
Anyway, you can’t climb half a mountain, and it never sits right to do a job halfway.
Julia knew I was right and she would never leave me anyway – Julia is loyal. I’d love her no matter what, but I cherish loyalty. : )
Anyway, it took us a while to find the gate where we needed to go in the dark and I honestly thought Cutie was going to cut loose and fall off for about three quarters of that mile, but we got her where she needed to go and we found our way back home.
I self medicated with ice cream after I took a very hot shower.
Julia and I didn’t really talk much that night. Both of us were hot and tired and I admit, I resented the fact that Watson was playing with his boys while I was dealing with heat and complicated equipment and dead bodies of animals that I loved. (You can read what I wrote about that in the Reader Chat.)
But the next day, we came downstairs early and Julia was smiling. I was pretty happy that we didn’t have Cutie hanging over our heads all day, but Julia said, “You know, Mom. I can’t believe how good it feels to have faced such a hard job and somehow we were able to figure it out and do it. That just makes me feel awesome.”
She put into words how I’d been feeling. Facing something that seems impossible, and knowing that God would give you the ability to conquer it, pushing yourself to do things that you never dreamed you could do, not quitting when that seems like the only way, but pressing on and doing that hard thing, feels really good.
I’m not talking about a pride in yourself, or a feeling that you can do anything (ha), but it gives you confidence. Like, I can manhandle a three quarter ton dead animal, chain it down and run a complicated piece of equipment, I can handle life.
Sometimes God has interesting timing and I love that He taught Julia and I that lesson last week – we can handle life. And we can do it with gratefulness and with a little bit of laughter as well. (As long as we have ice cream and Dr. Pepper. ; )