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 favorites 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:
1) We need to make efficient use of the available space our cavernous barn had to offer and
2) 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 raising calves. 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 twenty 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 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 happily bounced out of bed at 5:00 a.m. to get ready. The outside temperature hovered around twenty degrees Fahrenheit. We dressed in old clothes and wore 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 resulted 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 made 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 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 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. Hot gravy and biscuits never had the same allure for me once we got into the calf raising business. Nonetheless, raising calves was a special treat, but I’ve no intention of a repeat performance.
(E-mail your funny farm stories to email@example.com)