Growing up on a farm comes with hard work, joy and sometimes loss

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cow grazing

Animal lovers share stories of pets with whom they have shared time, and I recall a few who listened in disbelief when I told of the cows who were so filled with personality I mourned their loss. My first job as calf feeder gave me the opportunity to see that these four-legged animals are blessed with temperament, some endearing, some frustrating. 

I took to the challenge and felt great pride when Dad commended me for a job well done. I grew especially close to one calf I helped nurse along. When our neighbor and veterinarian Doc Smith proclaimed the heifer a survivor, I named the small Holstein “Doc” and enjoyed watching spunk return. 

Calf

She would seek me out in the calf pen, nudging me for some extra attention, grabbing at my fingers with her cold nose and tongue. 

As a first-calf heifer, Doc was easy to stanchion train, and never lifted a hoof when tended to. She still nudged me, her head down to my level, leaning against me gently. She pushed her way to the front of the holding pen over much bigger Holsteins, and every single morning and night was the first one into the parlor, walking to the first stanchion. 

She was a beauty and I felt as proud as could be, considering her my finest accomplishment at 10. In the free-stall barn, Doc would choose to lie in the same spot, chewing her cud contentedly. I would stop and scratch the white V on her forehead, letting her nudge me when I stopped. I kept a close eye on her just as I had when she was a calf, dreaming of keeping her around forever. 

Tough talks

Doc’s milk production was stellar, and I bragged on her as if she’d won national ranking. When she failed to breed back, I rallied for a second chance. Dad gave me the business versus affection speech, quite honestly not the first time he felt compelled to do so with one of his four daughters. Doc produced a bull calf, and I breathed a sigh of relief. 

Her milk production boosted back up, likely helped a bit by my sneaking her extra grain from time to time. Another year and another challenge getting Doc bred back. I pleaded her case, Dad had Doc Smith check her over, and leveled with me. One more chance, he said, then walked away because he couldn’t bear to watch me wipe tears from my face. 

I have watched my nieces and nephews, and now their children, fall under the spell of some great Holsteins, and I focus on the moment, knowing that all too soon the hard talk and a very tough day will come. 

Being raised on a farm is filled with work and joy, tempered with loss, wisdom and growth that can’t be measured over the course of a childhood. I count myself one of those lucky ones.

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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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