The Planted Row: Good luck in calving season!

Farm Forum

Calving season has already started for some producers, and for others it will begin in the near future. I want to say “thank you” to the livestock producers who brave the elements and go for weeks with little sleep to make sure their calves survive the treacherous first few weeks of life.

I’m going to be honest — it was hard enough for me to get my own children off of bottles and out of diapers. Neither one of them slept through the night before they were 2 years old. I’m pretty sure I wasn’t born with the patience to do the same thing for a calf, even for just a few weeks. After my youngest kid was potty trained, I vowed that I would no longer be responsible for any living being that can’t wipe its own butt. I don’t even have a dog.

Still, I enjoy eating beef, and I have tremendous respect for the livestock producers who care for their herds. I can’t imagine the strength of heart it takes to put so much care into a group of animals, raise them to maturity, send them to the packing plant and then start over with the next bunch.

When I was very little, we had beef cattle on our farm, but by the time I was 6 years old, my father decided he was tired of “fooling with cows,” and he sold or slaughtered our remaining stock. Despite our lack of cattle, my dad tried his best to give me an education in animal agriculture. (It’s not his fault he was working with a poor student.) He made me try my hand at livestock judging in 4-H. That was pretty much a disaster. It quickly became obvious that I would never be able to place animals accurately. So, my dad had me borrow a friend’s heifer to show. After the first time she stepped on my foot, I lost interest in that activity quickly. Finally, after much pleading, my dad let me stick to land judging and other crop related contests.

While I’m very ignorant of the realities of ranching life, I do have a few fond memories of the time we had livestock. We had one cow on the place who was basically our pet. This cow’s name was Baby, and Baby was the gentlest cow you could imagine. I remember taking rides on her. My dad would place me on her back and then get her to walk by slowly pulling a washtub filled with corn away from her.

Nothing lasts forever; though, and soon Baby’s time was up. Dad had her butchered, and he put the meat in our freezer. My sister Kathy was 3 years old at the time, and she quickly noticed Baby’s absence. So, Dad carefully explained to her the facts of farm life. He told her that we raised cattle to provide us with meat to sustain us.

Kathy accepted the lesson well, or so it seemed. The next time we had guests at our house for dinner, my mother served beef. Kathy, to the horror of my parents, turned to one of the guests, and whispered (as if it were a scandal), “We’re eating Baby.”

Regardless of her early fondness for the livestock, Kathy grew a tougher skin. When she was a teenager, Dad came home with a young calf. It had been years since we had any livestock, but Dad said he would fence off a small lot for the calf and told Kathy that if she would feed it and take care of it, she could have the profits when we sold it. Kathy took the offer and gave her new pet an honest name — Beef.