I have previously regaled you with stories of how rural life on the farm enhanced and enriched our lives.
You have learned how the motivation to become educated was taught via the business end of a pair of post-hole diggers. You have also been told of how growing vegetables in the garden trained us to enjoy manual labor and, at the same time facilitated our physical growth by eating those god-awful butterbeans.
I can honestly say however, that these were not the only perks to farm life. There were countless others and one of my brother’s favorite memories comes from raising calves for market.
As you might guess, it was Daddy’s idea. We already had a hefty-sized barn (compliments of my post hole digging efforts), and I believe that Daddy’s logic went something like this:
— We need to make efficient use of the available space our cavernous barn had to offer and
— The garden was only a part-time enterprise since it just occupied us in the spring and summer.
Added to that brilliant bit of reasoning was the idea that we could make money. Buy low, sell high. Nothing could be simpler.
So we entered a new phase of our lives and went into the business of buying calves that were just a few weeks old in order to fatten them up and re-sell them at what must have been a considerable return. I hope it was a nice profit because, as we were soon to learn, those little dudes were a pain in the behind.
Now as our hero Larry Munson would say, “Get the picture."
First we procured a goodly number (Daddy deemed 20 to be a workable starting point) of the young animals at a sale barn. We then hauled the little beasts home and put them into individual pens that had been lovingly prepared on the interior of the barn. That wasn’t too bad.
It was disconcerting, however, to discover that they were already hungry. Having been freshly removed from easy access to their mother’s milk the calves were bleating up a storm and impatient with their new situation.
In my mind, I thought we would pour some feed in their trough and shut them up. It was then that I learned their diet would be milk, not dry feed, so my next question was to inquire as to the delivery system of that milk.
There were no mama cows around.
When daddy said they were going to get the milk from us, I was profoundly confused. Turned out we would be feeding them from a bottle, and thus the nightmare began.
As previously mentioned, the joys of farm life were many and embarking on this new adventure only added to the pleasant variety of our experiences.
So here’s kind of how it went.
We would happily bounce out of bed at 5 a.m. to get ready. The outside temperature was usually hovering around 20 degrees Fahrenheit. We’d put on old clothes and snake boots. Mama made us wear those rubber footings because she had an irrational fear that we might perish from a snake bite. Failure to don those boots would result in something far worse than a snake bite, so we obliged. Besides, the boots did serve a useful purpose in the barn because there was a thick coating of manure on the ground. Meanwhile Mama was making up powdered milk in the sink using a whisk to stir it in so the babies would get their proper nourishment.
We would then trudge out to the barn where mass bleating had commenced. Upon arrival, it was then our duty to teach the calves how to suck from a bottle rather than from their mother’s udder. They didn’t like that. To get them used to it, we would let them suck on our fingers and hope they were not in a mood to clamp down with those strong teeth. It was an (udder) delight to get calf slobber on our hands first thing in the morning. Once they got the idea and had latched onto the bottle’s teat, it was easy.
The only problem arose when the calf was not satisfied with the amount of milk coming through and then they would violently butt the bottle and send shock waves through your body.
Of course there were some land mines that had to be avoided. Occasionally the calves would get a case of scours. That’s cow talk for diarrhea. It came in various configurations but was generally pretty gross. The rule of thumb was never to stand at the south end of a calf that was pointed north. If you wound up in the wrong place at the wrong time, your snake boots were of little use.
I remember one calf in particular. We named him Hercules, because when he came to us at a tender age he appeared already half grown. I bet his mother never forgave him for what he put her through. Anyway, Hercules was the all time leader in several categories. He could butt a bottle completely from your grip, was the fastest thing on four legs since Man O’ War and was the scours champion of the civilized world.
When feeding time was over we’d head back to eat breakfast but hot gravy and biscuits never had the same allure for me once we got into the calf raising business, nonetheless living on a farm was always a treat.
Alvin Richardson is a contributing writer, retired educator, and public speaker. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.