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Barnyard Orphan: Angus Calf Raised by Hand on Family Farm

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By Capper's Staff | Feb 9, 2012

This was the $64 question: Out of 64 cows, which one did the orphan calf belong to? If animals could only talk they could have solved the problem.

Last Monday I changed my clothes, locked the kitchen door and started walking toward the barnyard. I was walking slowly because I was meditating on the wise words of an old saying, “Never run. Walk, because as you walk along you’ll solve many of your problems before you get there.”

When I arrived at the pole barn I leaned against a wooden gate and gazed absentmindedly across the empty barnyard. Something was different; something was wrong. There, in the far corner inside the barnyard, lay a small black object. I climbed over the gate wondering, “What is going on here?” As I walked closer and closer I knew. Sure enough! Curled up into a snug little ball, sleeping in the fresh warm sunshine, lay a newborn black Angus calf.

I went on about my business of fixing the fence. I thought, “Its mother will come and pick it up later.” It is quite common for a mother cow to hide her calf for two or three days before she takes it into a big herd.

After a couple of hours passed the calf got up and meandered wobbly to the fence. It stood there looking at me. After finishing my job I left. It was still standing there.

When I returned on the second morning it was still there. I worked around inside the barn. After a while she worked her way up closer to me. I began to wonder, “Where is the mother?” As the day wore on no mother appeared. By late afternoon I was getting concerned.

Later, around 4:00 o’clock, I got on my tractor and drove out to the cornfield, where I hooked the chopper on and attached the empty wagon to it. I drove around and around the field until the wagon was full. I unhooked the chopper and left it in the cornfield. I took the full wagon and hauled it to the pasture for the day’s feeding. The herd saw me coming and rushed toward me. I climbed off the tractor, hurriedly unpinned the wagon, very quickly hopped back on the tractor and drove away to avoid being trampled by them. As they circled around the wagon to eat the chopped sudan grass I drove around and around behind them observing them. I did not spot one cow that looked like the eligible mother to the orphan in my barnyard.

“There’s no mother here? What is going on?” I pondered. Then I spoke aloud, “It’s definitely time for me to do something. That calf is hungry. Time is running out!”

I put a heavy foot on the gas pedal. The tractor took off like a scared rabbit, jarring and bumping me over every stone and the gully all the way home. I hopped off the tractor and into my car.

Remembering the feed store would close at 9:00 o’clock, I knew I had to get there quickly; 20 miles in 20 minutes would be a close call. All I could think of was that the little orphan was dehydrating and getting weaker every minute. She would never make it till morning; I was probably too late now. She could not hold out much longer. They were just ready to lock the door as I pulled up. I ran!

Once inside I rushed straight to the agriculture department where the calf supplies were. I bought a nursing nipple to put on a pop bottle and $30 worth of calf feed. I didn’t bother to purchase any other items.

The minute I got home I read the directions, prepared the formula and put the nipple on the bottle. I didn’t waste any time getting to the barnyard. She was lying on the ground with her head and legs curled under her. I thought she was dead. I picked her up and helped her stand, but she kept going limp and slipping back down. Finally, I braced her against a couple of hay bales and held her with my legs. Using my thumb and third finger of my right hand to hold her mouth open I tried to tickle her tongue with my index finger. At first she paid no attention to the nipple but finally, just as I was about to give up, she began to suckle and pull on the nipple. After a little more coaxing I removed my index finger and she emptied the bottle. She’d had her first pint! I rubbed her ear and patted her head. As I released my hold she slipped down on the straw by the hay bales and curled up. I patted her little head and fondled her ears and said, “I’ll see you in the morning.” I left feeling greatly relieved.

When she was a week old I put her milk into a pail without the nipple. She played ‘possum for a few minutes; I poked her head lower into the milk. She gave a little snort and shook her head, giving me a milk shower. Soon she drank greedily and emptied the bucket. It was many days before her tummy was no longer hollow, her eyes sparkled and her hair took on a soft new luster. She soon came running when she saw me approaching. She looked pretty cute the day she jumped over a bale to get to me. I honestly felt a little flattered when she began following me around like a dog. Neither she nor I were looking for her mother anymore. We gave up; she was on her own.

I’ll probably never know the answer to the $64 question. If only animals could talk… she just might be able to tell me which one of those cows was her mother. Frankly neither of us give a darn!

Lucille Stanek Jenkins
Jackson, Michigan

Back in 1955 a call went out from the editors of the then Capper’s Weekly asking for readers to send in articles on true pioneers. Hundreds of letters came pouring in from early settlers and their children, many now in their 80s and 90s, and from grandchildren of settlers, all with tales to tell. So many articles were received that a decision was made to create a book, and in 1956, the first My Folks title – My Folks Came in a Covered Wagon – hit the shelves. Nine other books have since been published in the My Folks series, all filled to the brim with true tales from Capper’s readers, and we are proud to make those stories available to our growing online community.

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