I was looking for the story about #16 but I found the one about 122 that I told early this spring instead, so I’m going to paste that one in here today:
I talked last week about how slippery it has been in our pasture – especially with a skift of snow on top of a thin layer of ice on top of some wet mud.
We got a lot of rain last Monday night, so our creek was swollen, the pastures were saturated and it was too muddy and slick for even Watson to drive through, so we walked out to check the cows.
We have around twenty cows that should freshen in the next six weeks or so, so we’re keeping a pretty close eye on them.
Tuesday morning Watson fed the cows, then he came back to the house and got me.
Now, I talked some about Watson last week. He’s a machinery guy. He loves tractors and equipment and anything with a motor and wheels. He knows them, understands them and is really intuitive at driving and fixing them.
I’m kinda the cow person.
Watson loves his cows. I mean, really, he loves them, but when it comes to actually knowing about them, that’s really me.
Anyway, it was too wet and muddy to drive, so we had to walk. I think that’s why he wanted me, but also in case we had a cow with a calf. I have a better knack for knowing what to do in a pinch, if that makes sense.
We have about ten or so cows who were bred to a Herford bull who are going to freshen in the next few weeks – four of them already have. These cows will have black bodied calves with white faces.
Our other cows who are going to freshen will have solid black calves. They’ve been bred to our Jesse James/Penn State bull and these calves are going be really nice beef.
So, as Watson and the two little girls and I were walking through the herd while they were eating the hay on the ground, we’re looking at the cows we know are going to calve and we’re counting the little white faced calves. Watson and I think there should be four, one of our girls is insisting there should be five.
So, we’re trying to figure that out, and we’ve counted three so far and we’re missing the solid black heifer that had been born the day before and was a little sluggish. We thought she’d eaten, but I like to keep an eye on them for a couple of days and make sure they can find their lunch okay. Also, we’d gotten a lot of rain overnight. We wanted to lay eyes on her and make sure she was good.
Well, we couldn’t find her – she wasn’t with the herd and her mama, 116A, was down by the creek bawling.
Also, as we continued to head toward the creek, we realized there was another cow – 122 – who was down there bawling, too, and who hadn’t had her calf when we’d checked them Monday night.
So, we have two cows down by the creek – 116A has a calf we can’t find, and 122 MUST have a calf, although we haven’t seen it yet. Cows on grass and hay aren’t really like women. I know I need to be careful here, because you can’t always tell when a lady has had a baby, but…let me say it like this: grass fed cows have hay bellies, while grain fed cows are usually sleeker with less of a barrel look.
And…moving RIGHT along, lol, Watson and the girls and I reach the creek on the bottom corner of the pasture and we start walking up along it, looking. It’s cold and there are patches of snow on the ground, but the ground isn’t frozen and mud sucks at our feet with every step.
The girls get ahead of us (because, kids, right? lol) and Watson and I are talking strategy and where we’d last seen 116A and her little girl and why we’d decided she’d eaten and where we think she might be.
So, the girls get about halfway across the pasture with Watson and I about twenty yards behind them.
They yell back, “We found one!” and Watson and I get to the bend in the creek and see the little heifer we were worried about, lying down at the edge of the creek at the bottom of a six foot drop off.
Now, I mentioned we’d gotten a lot of rain the night before. The creek is up – although not like it’s been in the past – it’s muddy and deep, but it wouldn’t be over my head and the current wouldn’t sweep me away. But it would be strong enough to knock a newborn calf down. Or, more likely, if the calf were to fall, the current would be strong enough to keep it from getting back up, since newborns have trouble balancing anyway.
The girls are ahead of us, and they go about fifteen yards up the creek to where the bank slopes down. We just need the heifer to get up and walk those fifteen yards to get out of the creek.
Well, the girls haven’t chased cows much, and I guess they really don’t realize how precarious the situation is.
They run to the slope, and my youngest plows into the water, splashing across (and realizing it’s a little deeper than she was expecting – over her boots).
The other girl is a little older and she goes more slowly, which seems wise, but maybe wasn’t, because the mud is pretty deep there, and she gets both of her boots stuck in the mud.
The girls have made a lot of noise (they’re girls – there is laughing and giggling and squealing as they get wet and stuck) and the calf has gotten up and started running – in the exact wrong direction – and the creek goes from about 1 1/2 feet deep to about 3 feet deep.
Its head goes under the water.
I race toward the bank and I do something I never do – I yell at the girls.
I yell at my youngest to turn and face the bank (a cow will always choose to avoid a face, but they will run toward a back. I don’t know why, but this is a truth) and I yell at my other daughter to get out of there, because the calf isn’t going to run that direction while she’s standing at the only spot where it can get out.
I didn’t realize that both of her feet are stuck, and in fact, as I look, I realize that she’s lost a boot and has one stocking foot in the freezing cold water of the creek while she’s trying to pull her other foot out, which is still stuck in the mud.
She yells, “I’ve lost a boot and my other foot is stuck!”
I yell back, (at the same time the calf has gotten its head out of the water and I’m reaching down the six foot bank – I REALLY don’t want to go in the water – and waving my hand in front of its face and I’ve gotten it partially turned, but it doesn’t want to move forward because my daughter is RIGHT where it needs to go) “Forget about your boot and get out of there!”
The water is icy – my daughter yanked her second foot out of her stuck boot and is now in two stocking feet struggling through the knee deep mud to get out of the way – the calf is shivering and exhausted, and I’m shaking because while I didn’t run that far – only thirty yards or so – the mud was sucking at my feet the whole time and my legs feel like jello, partly because I’m not used to running with suction cups on the bottoms of my feet and partly because my brain has already gone to pneumonia – in the calf and the girl – and I don’t want to watch this baby drown right in front of me.
I’m on my hands and knees on the bank waving my hands trying to get the calf to turn around. As my daughter leaves her boots behind and scrambles up the slope, she scares the calf and it turns and starts back toward the deep water.
My youngest daughter scooted along the edge of the bank – with her back toward the calf – until she was well behind it, and she splashes across the creek towards the calf as Watson hands me a long stick.
Between us, we get the calf moving and we pass the stuck boots as the calf climbs tremulously out of the bank and is reunited with her mother.
I go back and slide down the slope, grabbing first one boot, then the other, and pull them out of the mud. I’ve done that multiple times – lost my boots in mud. I’ve actually completely lost a pair of sneakers – like lost, lost, where I couldn’t find them. (And I’m saying mud, but where there are cows… : )
I help my daughter get her boots back on, apologize to both of them for yelling at them – they said I could do it once every decade or so, lol – and I send them up to the house to get out of their wet clothes and get dry, asking them to go by way of the deep gully and make sure there aren’t any calves in it, because, while we’ve gotten 116A and her calf reunited, 122 is bawling like her heart is broken and we haven’t seen any sign of hers yet.
Watson and I follow the creek up to the other end of the pasture – he crosses it and even in this normally shallow spot, the water is over the tops of his boots – and we walk both banks the entire way back down the pasture, checking the woods on the other side, in case it crossed the creek and got through the fence, and looking at the few spots along the creek where it might have gotten tangled up in tree roots.
Okay, I’m going to be blunt now and admit I’m also looking for any sign of black hair waving in the water. Our calves might be 60 – 80 pounds when they’re born, give or take, but newborns don’t have great balance, and it doesn’t take much – a little bit of current – to knock them down.
I know, if a calf fell in the creek the way it was up from all the rain, it would get carried downstream and drown on its way down. The body would be hung up on a rock or a root or a bunch of debris. Even though it was still muddy, I could tell the creek had gone down some from its overnight high, and I figured if the calf was born even a few hours before – or more – the current and depth would have been worse.
122 is still standing at the same spot – right beside the creek, almost in the middle of the pasture – bawling, while Watson and I slowly walk the entire length of the pasture.
When I reach the fence, I climb through it into the next pasture. The creek flows the whole way around the bottom of that pasture and on through another one before it empties into the river. Watson says, “What are you doing?”
“I’m going to follow the creek on down.”
He kind of looks at me. I say, “Did you check the woods real good? The calf will be able to get through the fence while the mom can’t. It could be up there holed up in the woods.”
“If it’s up there, we’ll never find it.”
“Well, we have to, because she obviously has no idea where it is.”
He looks at me again, and then he looks down the creek where I’m going. It’s cold out, but I’m hot. I have sweat running down my back, which should make me shiver, but while I feel the trickle along my skin, I’m not cold.
I don’t have a good feeling – that upset stomach feeling that your heart gets when you know things just aren’t going to turn out the way you want.
Watson knows if I go down the creek and find the calf, it’s just going to be a body.
Watson doesn’t give up much better than I do.
He grits his jaw and looks back the way he just came. Then he calls over the creek, “I’m going to go back up through and just focus on the woods. It’s gotta be there somewhere.”
We both know it doesn’t have to be there.
It could be downstream.
I jerk my chin, then start slowly through the next pasture, following the creek, looking hard at any place along the edge where a calf might have pulled itself out and be lying there shivering.
I’m also looking at the water, watching for a wave of black fur. Or the graceful lift of a limp little tail moving up and down with the current.
I’ve made it a slow thirty yards – the creek deepens, and I’m really searching the water for a black shadow, when I’m scanning up the creek and I see Watson walking toward me.
I think he knows too. He looks all tough, but honestly, he’s softer than I am about this kind of thing.
He changed his mind, obviously, about going back up, and I don’t ask why, but I guess it’s because he doesn’t want me to find the body by myself.
We slowly walk downstream, across the creek from each other, him on one side, me on the other, going slow through this deeper part.
My eyes fly to his face, judge the trajectory of his gaze, and go back to the water while my heart falls.
I’m still searching.
“It’s right there,” Watson says, and I see the fur, lifted by the current, before it falls again. The body is almost completely submerged.
Watson climbs down the bank, fishes in the water for a hoof, and drags a big, beautiful, dead bull calf out of the muddy water.
Up the creek, in the other pasture, 122’s bawling cry cuts through the air again and as I stand there looking at her baby, I know she’ll be bawling all day today and all night and all day tomorrow, standing up there by the creek and hoping her baby comes back.
Of course, he’s not going to.
Now, I don’t know what everyone else thinks when something like this happens. Maybe they don’t. It’s probably easier that way. But I’m looking at the calf and I’m running through my mind, trying to figure out what we could have done to have saved him.
“What a waste,” Watson says.
122 bawls again.
“She raised one of our best-looking steers last year.”
It’s pretty heartbreaking to hear her cry and to stand there looking at her baby and knowing her distress is in vain, but I’m not going to cry, and I’m not going to get angry (at what??), although I kind of feel like I want to do either or both.
“Man, this reeks,” Watson says, frustrated.
I agree, and I can hardly stand to hear 122. But I say, “I know the upper pasture is smaller and it’s going to be a muddy mess, but I think we should move the whole herd up there, close the gate and keep them there. That way they only have access to about fifteen yards of the creek and it’s all shallow.”
Watson is probably having just as hard a time as I am listening to 122. “I’ll feed them up there tonight and we’ll shut the gate while they’re eating.”
We walk up and get the Gator – this pasture isn’t as muddy as the other and we go down and drive across the creek, stopping where the calf is over the bank.
Watson goes down and grabs a leg, I stay up and pull Watson’s other hand as we drag it up the bank and over to the Gator.
He takes the front legs and I take the back and we swing him up. He’s heavy and I can barely get my end up. We stand there and look at him – a nice, beefy bull calf and a hard loss, from a business perspective, and from a heart perspective.
Finally Watson says, “I guess if it were all peaches and cream, everyone would be doing it.” He pushes away from the Gator and moves to the door. “Just gotta take the hit and move on. It stinks, though.”
Which, of course, reminded me of the verse I have below, and also reminded me of something God’s nudged me about more than once over the years – that struggle and hardship and loss make us stronger, and they also make us appreciate our success more, as well as help us to put things that aren’t quite as important into better perspective.
It’s a lesson I need over and over, because anytime things get hard, it’s always tempting to quit, to complain and to pray that God gets me out of this, or at least fixes it for me.
It happens with our kids, too, right? We want to fix everything for them. We hate seeing them suffer. We want to pad the playground and keep anything bad from ever happening to them. But, just as God allows the rain to fall in our lives, we’re doing our kids a disservice if we protect them from the rain in theirs.
It’s funny because that night, Julia had an issue she was talking to me about and as she was leaving my room she said, “I love talking to you because you always make me realize that my problems aren’t as bad as I think they are. You’re just so chill.”
Ha. That was kinda funny to me since I had just yelled at the other girls that day, but that really is another good thing that comes from walking through pain and loss. We get to share the (very small bit of) wisdom we’ve learned with others. It’s a good feeling.