There is an empty calf bottle sitting in my milk house. It is not because I forgot to fill it. It is because I lost a calf this morning. You’d think that I’d be used to it by now because every livestock farmer has had it happen from time to time. Like my dad always told me, “when you raise livestock, you also will have deadstock”. The truth is that you never really get used to it. Bringing new life into the world is a privilege that isn’t taken lightly by farmers. This morning’s early calving was no exception.
I knew that it was Dorito’s first calf and my instincts knew that she needed assistance. The calf was very much alive while I gently checked to see if it was in the proper position. However, my hope for a healthy calf faded as I carefully help deliver Dorito’s calf into the world. All the signs of life that I had just seen moments ago were gone. I used all the tricks that any farmer would do to try and revive it. I even gave it CPR by blowing in its nose and pushing on its chest. To my surprise it did take a few short breaths before passing on, but it was too late to save it. The milk truck was arriving in an hour so I had to carry on with the morning milking even though I was still shaking with adrenalin from the calving and the loss of the calf. As I milked, I looked back to the calving pen and watched the mother instinctivly lick her dead calf. I was half hoping to see the calf miraculously spring back to life from those loving licks, but it was not to be.
The calf was not sired by a fancy bull and her mother was just an average cow, but she would have been cared for just the same as any other animal on our farm. PETA would like you to think that farmers don’t care about their animals and all that we care about it profit. I assure you that on most farms this is not the case. Yes my cows provide me with a livelihood, but they are more than just milking cows. I can trace every cow back to my grandfather’s original herd of cows that he got from his parents. There are mothers, daughters, sisters and grandmothers from the same family milking in our herd. I know each cow’s unique personality and I promise you that they are all respected and loved.
Perhaps I am too sensitive to be a farmer and I shouldn’t have taken this tragedy so hard. I feel like I want to quit my job and do something different. However, the more that I think about it, compassion and sensitivity are probably good traits for a farmer to have. It’s probably time to quit farming when you stop feeling sad at the loss of an animal. My calf’s death does not compare to the death of a person or even a pet, but as a farmer I took a quiet oath to nurture life on my farm at all times. I feel like I let this little calf down even though there was nothing that I could have done differently to change the outcome. After milking, I will bury my calf in the corn field and say a little prayer. I am sorry that I couldn’t save you little calf. Ashes to ashes, dust to dust……
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