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Hard lessons are learned growing up on the farm

Every day I am grateful for the opportunity my children have had to live on a farm. I have truly appreciated the life lessons, work ethic and sense of responsibility they have gained. I know they are equipped on a level most never experience to handle whatever life may throw their way. It is, however, not without some sadness and pain.

One of the things my children have learned through their years on the farm is the value of life, and the sad reality of death. When one raises livestock, there is a guaranteed opportunity to witness both. There is nothing more satisfying than witnessing the birth of a new calf, watching it walk for the first time, then watching it grow. Unfortunately, there is another side to the cycle.

Sickness, injury and death does come for some of our livestock at unexpected times. No matter how hard we work to keep our animals safe and healthy, sometimes things happen that are beyond our control.

Last week one of our 5-year-old cows (an old show heifer of my oldest son) went down for no apparent reason. On his daily check and walk-through of the herd, my son found her down and unable to get up. Upon more investigation, it appeared that she had injured her leg somehow, and despite her best effort, she was unable to stand. With the exception of the leg she appeared bright and healthy. We made sure she had water, feed and proper support on the ground while we assessed our next step.

We discussed the best and worst case scenario — we decided that time might be on her side and were willing to give her the time to try and heal and get up, understanding that if she didn't, she would not survive.

My eldest son, wrapped up in the magnitude of the moment sat down at her head and spoke to her quietly, patted her forehead and contemplated the next steps. She had been his prize show heifer and a great cow and mother to her calves. It was in that quiet moment I watched him break and begin to weep, knowing that we had done all we could and now we must wait. The stark reality of what we face every day came into focus for me as I watched my son grieve the potential loss that lay ahead. It was a moment of great clarity. This was a terribly sad, tragic moment that was out of my control and yet I was thankful for the opportunity we had to be there for this cow in her time of need. To witness the great commitment my dear son has for his livestock, and the depth of understanding all of us gain from times of this nature.

Girl (the cow) is getting better a bit more everyday. She has been up and moving around and we are hopeful that she will recover, but the future is still uncertain for her. Whatever the decision, it will be with her best interest at heart.

The lessons we learn on the farm breed compassion and mercy in ways that nothing else could and for that I am truly grateful. My son is stronger and more compassionate as a result of this experience, as are we all.

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