It was a sweet sight, no doubt. My heart is always drawn to God’s animal creatures, especially those who have found themselves abandoned young.
Nicole and I were working out in her basement one afternoon when Rodney stomped down the stairs and ambled in.
“I got a pen,” he said to her. “Where do you want me to set it up?”
They made commotion about exactly where to put it in the yard — somewhere near the pasture, she suggested — then Rodney hurried off. I heard enough to know what was going on: A baby calf had lost his mama and someone was going to have to bottle feed him. Nicole’s boys had either volunteered or been volunteered.
Rodney had been down and sick for a few days, so his hired help had gone over to our farm, several miles from Rodney’s, to check on the black Angus there. He discovered the baby’s mama dead, gone, he figured, for two or three days. The baby had kept himself alive by, as Rodney put it, “stealin’ milk from four other mamas.”
Rodney and his friend, the preacher, set up the pen and unloaded the calf that Rodney had roped up with his belt and set down in the floor board of his truck to bring him back. As we finished our workout, we looked out the glass doors to see the preacher, Pastor Joe, gently teaching the youngest boy, Nix, how to feed a bottle to a calf.
I thought back to the calf I had raised when his mama died. He was a half-breed, Daddy said. Somehow a Black Angus bull had meandered over from another pasture and bred with one of our red and white Herefords. The result was an enormous calf so big that his mama could not bear him. The vet performed a Cesarean, delivered the calf then watched over the mama for a couple of days until she died.
“If you’ll take responsibility for feeding that calf, I’ll give him to you,” Daddy said. I was 11 and raised to be responsible, so I never had to be reminded to mix the formula in the big bottle then hurry out to feed him before school and again when I returned. I called him Sir Lancelot and he followed me like a devoted dog. Much better than Dixie Dew, for sure.
That day at Nicole’s, seven kids climbed on top of the pen and watched the scared young animal. Bree, one of the 3-year-old twins, had thoughtfully brought a bib for the bottle-giving. They were so excited, clapping their hands in delight, then scrambling down to touch him.
“How old is he?” I asked. “About a week?”
I had a new one at my house, six days old, and they looked to be the same size.
Rodney nodded. “Sommers around there.”
“How did you figure out which calf was the orphan?” I asked.
I knew the answer, though. I had just seen an episode of the old black-and-white Western, “The Rifleman.” A mama cow will always find her baby when it’s time to feed. It had taken Rodney a couple of hours of isolating the cows before they had all paired up and left the orphan out in the cold.
As the glossy black one ran around the pen and the children cheered, I shook my head. “That poor thing has no idea that he’s just become part of a circus.”
Oh, but how they loved him from the beginning. He, I knew from my own experience, would soon love them, too. They would all be devoted to each other.
“You don’t just have a calf to raise,” I said to Nicole as I was leaving. “You’ve got a cow for life, to live in your yard. Those kids will never let him go.”
I can’t think of a sweeter gift, either. For any of them.