In Paul Harvey’s poem “So God Made a Farmer” the first sentence of the 4th verse has always stuck with me: “God said, I need somebody willing to set up all night with a newborn colt, and watch it die, then dry his eyes and say ‘Maybe next year’.” Anyone who raises livestock can tell you this all to well. But what the poem does not tell you is how hard he had to work to deliver that animal and the joy he felt when he pulled a live one and then anguish of slowly watch it go all down hill from there. It did not tell you, he had been up the night before and the night before that. It does not tell you the decision he will have to make of finding a new calf to put on the cow or to just fatten her and sell her even though she is one of your best. It does not tell you the guilt he feels for losing it even though it was completely out of his control.
Our family cattle operation, will start calving season come January 20 and each season brings it own challenges, success, and emotions. It is always exciting to see what each new calf will bring. This year we have a new bull with one of our herds so we are anxious to see what he will bring to the table. Right now we are making sure everything is set up and ready to go, that the calving barn is clean, the puller and chains, and OB. box is ready to go, and with 50 new heifers Dr. Saxe our vet is ready for those 3 am phone calls.
Then after the first 2 a.m. check, tired will set in, especially if the weather turns really bad and we have to go on a 2 hour rotation of checking cattle. The whole time while putting on your boots you keeping pray that no one is calving. That you can just go back to bed and get warm cause the temperature will be in the teens or below. Sometimes your payer is answered with a yes. Sometimes it is answered with a 6 a.m. wake up cause one is calving. Then there’s those times it is answered with going two days with only 4 hours of sleep and that was only shifts of 20 minute naps taken in the truck waiting for them to calve. But in the moment of delivery you don’t even notice especially once the calf hits the ground. because in that moment, it is all about getting right on the calf to help him get the fluid out of him, getting his tail, ears and nose dried so there is no frost bite.
Then comes the best part of all, the moment you having been waiting for, for 9 months the moment when you can turn him over to his mother and she just falls in love with him and claims him. The thing is, you don’t even notice your cold and tired in
those moments, because you just watched all your hard work pay off. It is only in the rare moments of loss you realize it. It’s when the calf had too hard of a pull and he is on the ground and you are doing everything you can do to revive him and you kept telling him to ‘come on stick with me’ and then you watch his last breath and his eyes go blank. That is the moments you notice, because for all of your hard work for that year just went out the window. Because, in that moment all you get is little bit of bitterness, and some guilt to go with being cold and tired and all you can say is “maybe next year.” Then a couple hours later, a new calf is born, and he’s is your focus at that moment and then you get to ride the high of another healthy calf.
Paul Harvey can tell you how the farmer was sad of the loss of the animal but it will never tell you the all the hours and work he put into that one animal. It will never tell you how tired, and cold he is. It will never tell you that not only did he lose the calf but he will probably have to get rid of the mother even if it is his favorite because she failed to perform her job. But the poem also doesn’t tell you how much joy he feels for each live healthy calf. The pride he feels as he watches them grow. The way he will laugh, when he turns them out in the spring on new pasture as they run and play. See God also said “I need some who can push through the loss and move on to the next so they can enjoy the blessing I’m about to give them”. So God made a cattlewoman.
My name is Heather Reynolds, I am a senior at Western Illinois University with a Major in Ag business. I grew up on a cattle and row crop farm in Pike County, IL. After graduation I will be working as a commodity broker and on my family’s farm. This blog is dedicated to my mother who lives this day in and day out. For she is the one who gave me my love of cattle.