Tails waving in the air, young calves frolic through the pasture as their mothers stand by, contentedly chewing their cuds. A cow bends to sniff her baby as it lies curled up, hiding in the grasses. The idyllic scene often greets the observant on leisurely spring drives down country roads. Every cattle farmer will agree that the journey to such a pastoral setting was not an easy one: rewards intertwined with toil and heartbreak.
Graze back in time a few decades when nearly every farm in the Midwest kept some type of livestock. The sound of playful calf bellows pervaded the summer air when we grew up on our eastern South Dakota farm.
Farm animals gave birth in the spring. That was the plan, but it is not nice to fool Mother Nature! Many a farmer trudged through a blinding March blizzard, seeking the calf that came early. Later, seeing the pools of mud in the yards was almost a guarantee that there would be at least one new delivery. Dad and my brothers occasionally needed to wade through muck over their boots to rescue a newborn and carry it to the barn, followed by the bawling, anxious mother.
In every animal species, there are those with personality, and even the toughest of farmers grow attached. Cows often become overly protective of their new offspring, so as a child I was seldom allowed inside the barn fence. We had one cow that was very tame and gentle, and every year, without fail, she produced two healthy calves. Twinny loved to have her head scratched, and Dad never worried that she would harm us, even when she had babies.
One late April afternoon, Don informed Dad that Twinny was about to calf. Dad nodded and smiled, undoubtedly picturing the matched pair soon to appear, happily nudging their mother for nourishment.
The chore time check revealed that this spring was different. The beloved cow was having trouble. Dad sent me to the house. “Have Mom call the vet.” Twenty minutes later, Doc barreled into the driveway. I followed him through the gate and pulled it shut behind me. Dad gave me “the look” and pointed out.
Sorely disappointed, I moped out of the shed, but I worried about Twinny and was determined to see her new babies. My father didn’t say I could not watch; he simply indicated I was not to be in the cow yard. Sneaking around the granary, I knelt by the fence on the south side of the pen. Undetected, I could peek between the boards.
It seemed like forever, but finally I saw a dark red form squirming on the ground. I released a sigh of relief. One little calf. Settling back in, I waited. And waited. Where was the next one?
The precious cow was not getting up to lick her newborn in the age-old ritual of nature. I angled my head between the boards to get a better look and Dad spotted the movement. Busted! I watched as he looked down, shaking his head. Then he slowly walked to me as I stood on the other side of the fence, waiting.
Eyes filled with tears, my strong farmer dad told me that we lost Twinny. He hesitated for a few seconds, then looked back at the scene behind him. Don and Delmer were rubbing the new calf with a gunny sack. After a few minutes it struggled to stand; finally, on wobbly legs the creature began its search for mother.
Dad motioned to the boys and they carried the wrapped bundle to us. The calf was the tiniest I had ever seen. I watched in amazement as it slipped under the fence and floundered into me. “Do you think you can take care of it?” Dad asked. The small creature bawled pathetically, and the white head turned up with big, brown imploring eyes.
Tiny and I grew up together that summer.
Unlike Twinny, most bovines turned rather testy when they gave birth. We had one roan cow that took it upon herself to protect all of the youngsters, whether hers or not. More than once the guys scurried frantically to the fence to avoid her charge, shaggy head swinging as she careened after them. Known as “Mean Cow,” everyone avoided the critter like the plague.
The men hauled feed and hay with the tractor and loader until spring grasses grew and the cows and calves could go to the big pasture. Two tractor tires stacked on top of each other made a perfect hay feeder. One cold March day, with bales piled on the loader, Delmer discovered something interesting in the tire feeder. Four legs flailed in the air. A large, shabby head twisted back and forth, crying pitifully in distress. Mean Cow was trapped in the feeder, upside down!
Possibly karma came to mind as the men remembered the wild eyes rushing at them, but they lifted one of the tires and worked together to turn the animal over. Once on her feet, she turned back to stare at the guys before galloping back to her fellow bovines. Amazingly, after her rescue, Mean Cow was never mean again.
Growing up on a farm, many animals journeyed through our lives. They had unique personalities; we rescued, cared for and loved them, and mourned when they were gone. We made their lives the best we could, and they changed ours forever.
DeAnn Kruempel grew up on a farm near De Smet, SD, the sixth child of Harrison and Mabel Wolkow. She attended school at Erwin and De Smet. Married Vicar Robert Kruempel and lived in Benedict, ND, Toeterville, IA, Akron, IA and Missouri Valley, IA. The author now resides on an acreage near Logan, IA and is employed as Children’s Librarian at Missouri Valley Public Library. DeAnn has written a series of books, (four published so far, fifth to come out soon) “Promises to Keep,” which are available at Amazon.com.