Last fall, when my newly-minted 4-H member announced he wanted a cow for a 4-H project, my heart just about burst.
Growing up, my cows and calves had been my best friends. A long drama filled junior high school day faded away while sitting in the feed bunk watching the cattle eat. Cattle are the best listeners. They heard all of my woes and never offered unsolicited advice.
After consulting with My Farmer – who is a grain farmer, not a livestock farmer and doesn’t want to be a livestock farmer – we decided to find a bucket calf (i.e. a calf that needs a little extra attention, or whose mama can’t or won’t care for it for whatever reason).
Enter Renee, an old 4-H acquaintance and farm gal who came home from college to build upon her family’s agriculture heritage. “I have a Brown Swiss heifer calf named Gabi,” she texted. That was the beginning of my farm boy’s first love affair.
I was worried about choring. Would the morning and night grind of bottle feeding, cleaning pens, and making friends with Gabi be too much for a nine-year old? But my farm boy never faltered. After two days of teamwork, I was informed I could stay in the house. He’s got this now. He dutifully cleaned pens, hauled water, and baled hay with Papa and Uncle Peter to work off his share for Gabi.
Teaching Gabi to lead for show was a test of endurance and patience for both animal and boy. Both being strong-willed the literal tug and pull brought both to their knees. But without too much instruction, my farm boy learned that an animal responds to requests and not demands. Before I knew it, the pair strolled around the farm morning, noon and night.
The Lee Co. 4-H Fair & Jr. Show was our first venture into a show ring. But it wasn’t show day or the ribbons or the premiums that made the impact. My farm boy was so relieved to have made it in and out of the ring, he sat right down in Gabi’s pen to give her a hug, realizing I think, that they were in this together. A team. Friends forever.
Eventually, Gabi needed to return to Renee and her farm. That was the plan all along. Gabi was our trial run, a test. Could we, as a family, do this – the chores, the training, the showing, the responsibility?
We decided to meet Renee at another county fair for the hand-off. We’d show, help Renee with her string of cattle and then leave Gabi to return to her original home.
After the show, my farm princess, farm boy and I explored the fairgrounds, ate a corn dog and sipped some lemonade. We sat quietly in the shade watching people. The quiet was awkward because I knew we all were avoiding the inevitable – saying good-bye to Gabi.
All the way home my farm princess sniffled declaring she was trying not to be sad because Renee “is a good farmer and loves her cows.” My farm boy stayed quiet.
It wasn’t until evening chores (barn cats and dog) when his reality set in. He shuffled up from the barn, crumpled into a kitchen chair and openly cried.
“I miss her, Mom,” he whispered. “Did you miss all your cows too?”
Absolutely, farm boy. Every good farmer does.