Feeding calf brings back memories


“In the back pasture, a newborn calf arrived this morning, all wobbly-legged and glistening wet. The sun warmed us as we walked across the valley and up the hill toward the barn, the pace slow, steady. It was a glorious morning to be reminded that new life requires patience and a bit of prodding to make the journey to a safe place, bedded down with straw.”
— Rachel Peden, 1959

Our lower barn is brimming with Holstein calves, keeping my nephew Todd and my hubby hopping at chore time.

On Sept. 14, with weather alerts telling us a big storm was heading directly for us, I walked down to the barn to see if Todd needed an extra pair of hands. He pointed out one calf that he had been trying to switch over from bottle to bucket with not a whole lot of luck.

I jumped right in, figuring I could at least keep the stubborn calf from spilling the bucket of milk. Just like riding a bike, the technique came right back without having to give any thought to the process.

Scooping my fingers down into the milk and offering it to the calf — with the calf happily grabbing on to my fingers like his life depended on it — brought back all sorts of memories.

First job

My first job on the farm when I was only 8 years old was feeding calves at the end of the milking. If there was fresh junker milk available, I knew to measure it out for each calf. I learned how to stretch my little fingers enough to carry four buckets to the calf pens.
If no fresh milk was going to be coming for the calves, I knew to mix up milk replacer, stirring it well with a whisk.

Just thinking about it brings that very distinct scent back with great intensity. There is simply no other smell like it. Remember the cups that came with each bag of milk replacer? They made perfect Kool-Aid drinking glasses and every other farm kid in the neighborhood had a stack of them in their cupboard, just like we did.

All of those thoughts came back to me as that calf tried to devour my fingers along with that bucket of milk. If I tried to walk away, the calf seemed oblivious as to what to do. He simply could not drink that bucket of milk without my fingers prodding him to do so.

The barn cats show up and cluster around when chore time comes, knowing that with a little patience, their hovering time will pay off when the leftover milk ends up in the cat feed dish.

Here comes the wind

As I walked toward the house that night, the wind began to pick up. It seemed hard to imagine that Hurricane Ike could possibly come this far north into Ohio, still packing a knock-out punch. Just to be safe, I drew several large buckets of water and filled the bath tub with water.

As I started supper, I watched out the kitchen window as the breezy day turned to an incredibly powerful windy evening.

My nephew learned that our county fair had decided to evacuate the fairgrounds based on weather reports and the consensus that too many people would be endangered as the storm was predicted to carry an incredibly powerful, possibly deadly, force.

With five minutes left on my kitchen timer for our supper, the power flickered, then went out. The stately old trees in our back yard began leaning far to the north as the wind whipped up with a great fury. We began locating flashlights and candles, preparing for at least a long night without power.


Mother Nature’s power was incredible to witness as the winds reached astronomical proportions and the intensity showed no signs of letting up. Limbs were blown from trees and sent sailing like toothpicks across our farm. I felt like Dorothy with Toto as my little dog insisted on being in my arms.

We were fortunate, as our power came back on in time to get ready for work the next morning. Many of our friends and neighbors went several days without power and the clean-up continues all over this county and surrounding counties.

Storms like this come along once in awhile to remind us that we are not in control. There is a power much greater than any of us can possibly comprehend.


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Judith Sutherland, born and raised on an Ohio family dairy farm, now lives on a 70-acre farm not far from the area where her father’s family settled in the 1850s. Appreciating the tranquility of rural life, Sutherland enjoys sharing a view of her world through writing. Other interests include teaching, reading, training dogs and raising puppies. She and her husband have two children, a son and a daughter, and three grandchildren.



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