GETTING THE COWS

This is a memory of a day in mid-summer when my cousin and I were in our teens. I grew up on a dairy farm. Every year my dad put about a hundred tons of hay in the barn. Getting it while it was dry was essential.
“Those clouds look like rain,” Daddy said. “Wish I could the last load of hay in the barn, but I’ve got to get the cows.” He sat drinking the coffee Mama had sent to him.

My cousin, Norma and I stood by the wagon. Chum, our dog, stood on the wagon waiting.
“Can Norma and I go get the cows?”

Daddy looked across our small valley. “They’re over in the woods. I don’t want you lost.”

“We could take Chum,” I said.

“True. Chum will keep track of you.”

“Can we, Uncle Miles?

“Yeah. Go tell your mother. Don’t get lost!”

“We won’t,” I yelled as we ran to give Mama the news.

“That would be a big help to Daddy. Take Chum and don’t get lost,” she said.

Norma and I ran through the barn, past the big red and white bull in his stanchion, past my pony in her stall, past the calves in their pens, and out the back door. Chum knew his job. He was beside us when we stopped at the top of the knoll and looked over to the opposite hill. No cows were in sight. They’d stayed out of the heat in the shelter of the woods.

Hand in hand, we walked down the hill to the bridge across the creek. Chum ran through the creek and stopped midway across it to lap up a drink. Now he trotted across the flat pasture to the other hill.

We stopped to lean over the bridge railing. No fish in sight. “Too hot,” Norma said.

I agreed. “They’re under the rocks. Chum’s going up the hill. We’d better hurry.” We stepped carefully across the swampy area trying not to get our feet wet. Then, we ran up the side of the hill. Out of breath we stopped halfway up the slope.

The first cows were already coming out of the lane. By the time we got to the opening in the woods, most of the cows were heading toward the barn. We plopped down on a large rock to rest.

“Where’s Chum?” Norma asked. “He always followed the last cow.”

We looked over the valley below us. “He’s probably checking a woodchuck hole,” I said.

Woof, woof, woof!

“Chum never barks unless something is wrong,” I said. “We have to find him. I hope he’s not hurt.”

We followed the sound into the woods. In a small green space between the trees, we saw the cow. She wouldn’t move for Chum. When he tried to nip her heels, she kicked at him and swung her head at him.

Norma poked my ribs. “She has a baby.”

There at the cow’s udder, a brand new calf stood on wobbly legs sucking down its first meal.

“What are we going to do?” Norma asked.

“Daddy says the mother will go anywhere the calf is. All we have to do is get the calf out of the woods and down the hill.”

“Easy.”

“Right.”

Again Chum tried to bite the cow’s heels. The mama went after Chum, leaving the calf alone.

“Maybe we can carry the calf,” Norma said. I put my arms around the back of the baby. Norma wrapped hers behind the front legs. We tried to lift. I fell backwards.

“Let’s try pushing instead.”

Mama cow kept trying to get between us and the baby. But with Chum’s help we managed to shove the baby a few feet toward the lane and the open hillside. We let go to get our breath.

“Moo.”

The newborn moved lightening. It was nearly back to where we started before we caught it. We’d learned a lesson. Don’t let go of the calf. It seemed to take forever to get the calf into the open lane. “Uncle Miles will think we’re lost.”

We laughed. “Chum knows where we are.” Maybe it would be easier to get the calf to move down the lane.

The three of us, Chum, Norma and I finally had the baby calf out in the open. Mama cow, too. Each time she turned toward the woods, Chum threatened to nip her heels. He wouldn’t let her go back to call her baby. We continued to push and shove.

Then we heard it—the doodlebug. We saw it with the wagon. Help was on the way.
“You found a surprise. I didn’t think she’d have her baby until next week.” Dad said when he stopped. We told him our story.

“I got back with the hay. The cows were all in the barnyard but there was no sign of you girls or Chum. Just as I started to come look for you, I spotted you pushing this baby out of the lane. I thought I’d help you out.”

“The calf is awful heavy,” I said.

“Stubborn too,” Norma said.

A dark cloud appeared over the hill. Thunder rumbled in the distance.

“Let’s go home,” Daddy picked up the baby calf and laid it on the wagon. Chum jumped onto it while Norma and I were happy to climb into our seat for a ride to the barn.
Mama cow trotted along behind. She was not leaving her baby.

This girl calf that my mother named Lady grew up to be one of the best milkers in the barn. My mother took her milk for our family’s use and to make butter. The milk we couldn’t use went with the rest of the day’s milk to the creamery.

 

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