When the sun went down on lambing and calving season this past winter, we had fair luck. We lost only a handful of baby lambs, and our sons ended the season down three calves altogether, along with one cow.
As the post-season kicked in, moms and babies got to know each other and the babies took advantage of the free, no-strings-attached buffet before them – as all children do.
That is, except for one little calf – the one who lost her mother. She had died from some kind of mystery infection, leaving her heifer calf, Melba, behind.
Melba is a delightful, happy calf, always glad to see someone, and singing to us in order to entice us to come out and feed her. She always lapped up the milk like nobody’s business, and seemed to want company.
She had to have been lonely with no mother to care for her. Actually, she had to have been the happiest lonely calf I’ve ever seen.
Melba would always come running when she saw us with the bottle, or if we called her name, she would first answer, then come running full speed ahead, skidding to a stop before she crashed into the gate in feverish anticipation of feeding time.
She would stand around to be petted afterwards, soaking in the attention and giving the love right back. Who says animals don’t have personalities?
What a cool little calf.
As the days went by, we continued to feed and care for her. One particular day I went out to feed her and as always, called her name. She always came running. This time she did not.
I could see her standing there, just looking at me. So I thought, “Well okay, I guess I’ll come out to you then.”
I did so, and she lapped up all of the milk and just stood there looking at me.
It appeared to be the same amount of warning time parents get when their child officially becomes, and acts like, a teenager.
Nonetheless, I talked to her, petted her head and left, returning the next day.
I called her name, and once again, there she stood, just looking at me. Once again I decided to bring her daily portion over to her.
This time she licked the bottle a little bit and then just stood there looking at me. I wondered if she was sick, but she didn’t appear to be any worse for the wear.
After some examination, our guys decided there must be another mother out there taking care of her, sharing her bounty and letting Melba eat.
I couldn’t help but contrast that with what would happen out in the sheep barn if the same scenario were to unfold.
Only a very caring and forgiving ewe would take someone else’s lamb and feed it out.
It’s been known to happen, but some of them have to be convinced that it’s better to give than to receive; no matter what you have to do.
When warm weather called for our sons to check the pasture fences, they deemed them in good shape, and the cows and calves were loaded up.
Arriving at the pasture, they opened the trailer door and the cows and calves made a run for it, much like I do when I’ve gotten a huge bargain at the store and wonder if the cashier has made a mistake.
They all took off on an exploring mission; all, that is, except for Melba.
Melba stood there looking at her new surroundings, as if she was confused, and maybe a little scared. She didn’t have her mother there to help lead her, but she did have the humans there who cared for her very much.
Somehow that wasn’t enough when all of the others she knew were bounding off to new horizons in a place of endless food and water with their mothers.
Our children were all feeling sorry for her, when off in the distance came a cow running toward the trailer.
Our daughter’s one and only cow in the herd, who had a calf of her own, was coming back.
In her own way, she convinced Melba to return with her, and the two of them ran off into the pasture, a family that they had created of their own choosing.
And they never looked back.
Somewhere in that story is a lesson for us all to learn.
Schwaller is a Farm News correspondent from Milford. Reach her by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org
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