After a winter of white and grey, spring in Minnesota makes me crave bright colors. I just finished this pastoral oil painting of my favorite spring scenes. New calves, neon green corn sprouting up into neat rows and lacy patches of wild flowers floating in a sea of waving grass.
This painting also reminds me of the many times I went with my grandpa, brothers and older cousins into the pasture to retrieve a newly born calf. It was so very exciting. Before I went to school at age five, I could dive between rows of barb wired fencing in a flash to avoid the charge of an angry cow and never even get a scratch.
A couple of years ago I posted my children’s story, “Going to Get the Calves”. I would like to share it again. There is much more truth than fiction in this account.
Going to Get the Calves
Having grown up on a dairy farm, I have memories of cows.
Every morning and evening we’d go down to the cow yard with grandpa and dad and call the cows in from the pasture. We’d all stand there by the silver barbed wire fence, bathed in the colors of the rising or setting sun, hands cupped around our mouths, yelling, “Ca, Boss…. Ca Boss” at the top of our lungs.
Soon, the cows, in a nice straight line, would come in from the pasture. They would climb the worn wood ribbed ramp into the barn, find their very own stall and patiently wait to be milked.
Oh sure, on occasion you’d get a beller’n bossy, but all and all they were quite well behaved. However, as I recall, calling for cows at odd hours of the day was severely frowned upon.
In the spring when the calves were born was my favorite time of the year. Our cows always gave birth to their calves in the pasture. They’d hide them and we would have to go find them.
Grandpa would hitch up the small gray metal grain wagon to the little red H Farmall tractor and the search and rescue mission was on.
We were all lookouts, and you had to, stealing a cow’s baby after all the effort she’d just expended made her mad. Who wouldn’t be?
The goal was to distract the cow while grandpa put the calf in the wagon, got back onto the tractor, put the tractor in road gear so that we could go faster than the cow could give chase, and then to get out of the pasture before the cow could escape. Grandpa was 82 years old, so being distracting was something we had to excel at. Besides who hasn’t had to stare down and taunt an angry bovine a time or two in life?
Once we had successfully gotten the calf into the wagon and grandpa safely back into the driver’s seat and headed in the right direction towards the pasture gate, the cow would inevitably charge the wagon to save her baby.
With the tractor in road gear and grandpa with one hand, minus a thumb, on the steering wheel and the other hand holding onto his faded and frayed yellow straw hat that grandma assured us he’d had since birth, and as the wagon gleefully bounced over every cow hump and pocket gopher mound in our path—one of us would comfort the calf.
Meanwhile, the other members of the team sat on the very back edge of the wagon wildly flailing their feet and legs in mid air. Occasionally, feet coming into contact with the cow’s forehead each time she got too close to the wagon.
Naturally, the whole operation could have become dangerous had the cow decided to ignore the preventive foot volleys and chose to join us in the wagon, or if any of us had been over the age of 10 or under 80. Safety first! That was our motto.
When we were safely out of the pasture, the calf was gently carried inside the barn, checked over, thoroughly petted and fed.
All of the calves were kept together in the barn until they were old enough to be turned out to pasture—weaned. The cow’s milk would come in shortly after the birth of her calf.
Each Minnesota dawn and twilight would find us all standing by the fence, calling the cows home from the pasture to be milked. Inside our big red barn the cow would walk to her numbered stall and wait to be milked. The calves safe and warm inside the barn would watch their mamma’s parade by each morning and evening. Somehow they too learn the milking routine.
Throughout every season, the milk was sent to the creamery in town, to be processed, and sold to city folk