They say a picture is worth 1,000 words, but as I was scrolling through pictures on the computer from the last couple weeks the other day I saw one that really struck me. It isn’t a particularly great picture. It is of me ear tagging our new miniature Hereford/Mini Zebu calf, Hermione. In the picture I am wearing a nearly 14 year old sweatshirt with too big shorts I bought in high school, paired with manure covered boots. I am kneeling in the straw (and probably also some poop) and my hair is a complete mess, falling haphazardly out of a messy bun. I have my arms wrapped around the still wet calf aligning the ear tag on her beautiful, tiny new ear. She was barely a half hour old in this picture. On the ground next to me is a disposable cup filled with a naval dip solution to help prevent her naval from getting infected. Someone in jeans is standing behind me. I am focused completely on the task at hand and you can’t even see my face in the picture.
My face isn’t the only thing you can’t see in this picture. The 1,000 words that this picture is worth are not nearly enough to describe the moment that this picture captured. This calf was a particularly special one. In the 284 days since we had bred her mother, Ferdie, a lot had happened on our farm. We had completed our first year of our CSA and designed big plans to make our farm successful in the coming year. We had made the decision that we would work to grow our miniature herd, and that if this calf were a heifer (female), she would stay on the farm. If it was a bull calf, he would be sold.
This picture fails to capture the nights we woke up every couple hours to check on the cows to make sure they weren’t having calving and needing assistance. It doesn’t capture how truly exhausted we were or the relief we felt when a heifer calf was born without intervention to another one of our cows a few days prior to this.It doesn’t capture the fact that on that particular day we had left the farm for a few hours to stop and get my dad to come down and see the first calf and that we had just gotten ice cream when we got a call from Jonathan’s parents that Ferdie had her calf. It doesn’t capture the apprehension I felt as I drove questionably quickly through town and out the valley to get to the farm, because I couldn’t wait to see the calf for myself.
This picture doesn’t show the people that were there because they had all invested time and energy into waiting for the birth of this particular calf. You can’t see that I had people on all sides of me watching the gates blocking both mama cows, including a 1400 pound ball of protective mama anger named Jewel, from trampling me while I gave this calf everything it needed for a healthy start to life.
This picture doesn’t capture the wonder I felt when I saw that tiny little being standing in the stall for the first time. It doesn’t describe the tears that pricked the corners of my eyes when I saw it was a heifer, or the number of times that I looked at Jonathan and said “I’m not crazy, she is a heifer right??” because I couldn’t believe my own eyes. It doesn’t tell you how many times I told everyone around me how absolutely perfect she was.
This picture doesn’t even come close to showing the anxiety I felt deep in my throat as I worried about this tiny calf’s first few days of life as I remembered how hard it was to lose our only calf last year. The 1,000 words that this picture is worth cannot even begin to tell you how much we, and all of the farmers I know, care for our cattle; how much every calf means to us. It doesn’t describe the importance of why I needed to be in that pen with that calf, or why I needed a team of four men to block the mama cows from me.
While this picture certainly misses a lot to most everyone, but when I see this picture all of those things are what I think about. I remember the emotion that I felt during those few moments when I was with her. I remember looking in her eyes and giving her a kiss on her nose as my way of telling her that I would always watch out for her before I quickly jumped out of the pen. This picture is worth 1,000 words to some people, but to me it is worth far more.