It’s calving season on the farms and even though my photo collections abound with anonymous brown and white faces with cute pink noses, I can’t resist capturing a few more shots. Next time I delete images, it is highly likely that these will disappear but for now I’ll oooh and ahhh over them on mornings when I need to believe that spring is eventually going to arrive and times when I need to reminisce.
Over the years, cows and calves and the occasional bull have been constants at my brother’s farm. When I was around five or six, Bessy the cow would let me crawl up on her back when she was lying down. I can still recall her sweet hay breath and feel the warmth of her sun warmed hide. If I ever fell off or got knocked over by her, I don’t remember it. At milking time, Dad would lead her into the stanchion and I’d poke around the barn while he filled the pails. We all tried drinking milk straight from the cow but no one developed a real taste for it-except the cats.
Having milk cows meant having calves around and sometimes we had to bottle feed the calves that got rejected. This was a job for my brothers or my mom, generally, as the calves could be rambunctious with their feeding. When these same little ones were out in the pasture, clustered around the one nurse maid cow, we would creep up on them and try to catch them by the tail then run wildly after them hanging on tightly until they yanked us off our feet. Luckily, none of the cows gave chase. In cases where people are killed by cattle, many of the fatalities occur because cows trample perceived threats to their calves.
Familiarity with the cattle caused me to lose fear around them until the incident of the yearling calf. As usual, I had decided it wasn’t fair that my brothers got to do the real chores, so I finally “won” the opportunity to capture the calf and lead it to the house so that the cow would follow and then be within milking range. The calf had a rope around its neck and I slipped up beside it and slid another rope through its collar then tugged to get it turned around and headed the right way. At first, it ambled along comfortably but then its mother started calling and it balked. I yanked harder and it resisted then lurched forward a few steps more. This tug of war continued for awhile longer until the cow came thundering past towards the milking spot, bawling for its calf the whole way. The calf burst past me, knocking me onto my belly then dragging me across the field by the rope which I had foolishly wrapped around my hand. I flew over several bumps and into a dust bowl until just as suddenly, the yearling stopped. My trussed up arm was on one side of a cedar tree and my head was on the other side. I do not like to think about what might have happened if the calf hadn’t stopped. This was the end of my desire to perform that real chore.
These days, I don’t have much to do with cows, other than taking the odd photograph. The whole circle of life that happens in the barnyard every spring is an occasion I look forward to though and one that keeps it all real: when your dog forages around for afterbirth while being squawked at by crows and eagles intent on the same feast, your romantic images of frolicking bouncy little calves watched over by gentle cows kind of goes out of focus for awhile.