This weekend I was at the local vet office when a fellow farmer came in with his daughters. They had a baby calf in the truck that needed some help. He couldn’t walk and his back leg was extremely swollen. The vet had him bring the calf into the office and asked me to stay to help him for minute.
The vet put the calf on the x-ray table and I helped hold it while he took some x-rays of the leg to really diagnose what was going on. Once we were done taking x-rays the girls came into the room to pet and love the baby calf. I explained to them that the best thing you can do for a calf in pain is love it (just like I was told by my dad) and that is exactly what they did. The oldest girl stood by his head and rubbed under his chin, behind his ears, and his forehead. She gave him kisses and just watched him the entire time she pet him. This was her 4-H heifer’s (female cow that hasn’t had a baby yet) first baby calf. This was as much her baby as the cow’s. She was trying her hardest to be strong for her calf. And she was. The youngest girl sat on the floor and told me all of her cow’s names and stories about all of them. Once in awhile she would come up to the calf and rub his belly. We were all hopeful that the vet could fix the calf’s leg and that it wasn’t as bad as it seemed. We kept laughing and telling each other stories about our cows. I loved every minute of it. Until I saw the vet’s face.
The calf’s femur bone was broken in two places. There were other complications (if I were a vet I could tell you better) that were going to prevent the calf from healing and being able to walk. The vet suspected that a cow had stepped on the baby calf by how the bone was broken. The owner and vet had to make the responsible and wise, yet sad, decision to put the calf out misery. The calf would never be able to walk. He would never be healed. Euthanasia was the humane thing to do.
That wasn’t the hardest part for the owner of the calf. Losing money wasn’t on his mind. Losing a calf wasn’t either. Explaining to his daughters what had to happen was.
We let the girls pet the baby calf and say their good-byes. They were mad at the cow that stepped on the calf. They were mad at the vet for not being able to magically fix his leg. They were mad because their dad couldn’t save him. They were mad because they wanted him to live more than anything else in this world. They understood that their dad was making the right choice, but they hated that choice.
I pulled the girls out of the room after they said their good-byes and took them into a different room. I distracted them with questions and silly stories. I made them laugh and get their mind off of the calf. They were still crying though. The tears never stopped. Soon their dad came to get them and leave. Leave with no calf. The girls put their boots back on and started to cry again. Their dad looked at me with sad eyes and thanked me for all my help. I smiled back and said, ‘absolutely no problem’!
That’s when this big girl became a little girl. A little girl with a baby calf. I walked back into the room with the calf and the vet had asked me to help, once again, hold the calf. This time to euthanize it. I looked at him and said, with hesitance, ‘you bet’. Once I touched the baby I lost it. Tears just started flowing. I was sobbing like a little baby. The vet never looked at me or told me to hold it together. I kept telling myself that it was all for the better. The calf wouldn’t be in pain anymore. It wouldn’t be suffering.
But that’s not what brought the tears. Yes, it was very sad and I wish it didn’t have to happen, but there is death in the cattle industry and as I get older the more and more I understand and deal with it better.
The part that brought the tears were the little girls. I was that little girl long ago. I wanted to save everything and every animal on the farm. I wanted all my babies to stay for forever. I didn’t understand anything. All I knew was that I loved ALL babies. Baby kittens. Baby mice. Baby calves. Those little girls made me remember what it felt like to not understand life or how life works. They made me remember how I used to think how simple life worked. And the girls taught me to never forget how simple life is. To never stop feeling or becoming immune to those feelings. They reminded me that I don’t have to stop crying because I’m a ‘big girl’.
So thank you to the little girl’s that came into the vet office this weekend. This big girl is still a little girl that loves her baby calves. And I hope you never stop being little girls with your baby calves.