From throwing bales, to pulling a calf

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“Look out below, Geronimo!”

As a kid, this was my favorite thing to yell down to the lower floor of the old dairy barn before I started the heave-ho of straw bales from the upper mow.

On one particular morning, my sister yelled back: “Hurry up and get down here. That cow we’ve been watching doesn’t look right.”

Our dad was busy in the fields, as spring work had just kicked in to high gear. The hired guys were all helping him, so my sister and I knew it fell to us to get the extra chores of a Saturday accomplished.

All this ran through my mind as I finished throwing a couple more straw bales and hurried down to check on the cow that was about to freshen. I saw the glassy-eyed look of the cow before I got around to the business end of things.

Getting tired

I realized that she was tiring out, laboring to birth a calf longer than is typical. I watched closely with the next push, and instead of front hooves, I caught a glimpse of a nose. The calf was bunched up, and this birth was not going to happen without some help.

Though I was just a kid, maybe 12 years old, I knew what needed to be done. I gathered my wits and doubled up some baler twine. Then I put lots of fresh straw down in the birthing pen.

I asked my sister to call Doc Smith, but told her I thought she and I could at least get things started. I’d watched this particular predicament being resolved.

Somehow, I needed to get tall enough to reach in there for front legs, and get them lined up to come in to the world first, before the nose. A straw bale dragged into place would help me accomplish the extra height I needed.

It worked! I pushed that nose back with all the strength I could muster, then got hold of one hoof, then two. I grabbed the twine and tried to tie it on to both front hooves, both wet and slimy.

I was lacking in rope-tying skills, and it proved to be an enormous shortfall.

Getting help

I went in search of my sister, who had the height and savvy I lacked. She tied the ropes just right.

Together, we timed our tugs with the cow’s laboring, and before long, a big, healthy bull dropped on to the fresh straw. I went on to help other cows birth calves, but this was the first, and it has stayed with me.

There was nothing like the pat on the back Doc Smith gave me when he stopped in just minutes after that calf arrived and my sister gave me the credit.

“Hey, you keep that up and you’re gonna put me out of business!,” I remember our neighbor and friend saying with a hearty laugh.

I felt about 10 feet tall, puffed up with the joy of accomplishment.

When I feel like I’m just not up to a job, I remember dragging that straw bale to give me the boost I needed. We can do anything if we put everything in the right order, ask for help when needed, and believe it can be done.

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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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