The little black calf loped alongside his mother away from my daughters and me as we approached in a side-by-side.
Reanna, 9, took it as a personal affront. Don't they know who she is?
The mama cow is a 3-year-old Black Angus cross named Rosie. A few years back, she was a bottle calf who Reanna cared for over many months, watching her grow stronger and bigger until she was big enough to forego her bottle and eat with other calves her size. Rosie wasn't just a bottle calf; Reanna also halter broke her and showed her at the county fair.
Last spring, Reanna bounded into the barn to visit Rosie and her first calf, a tiny little black heifer Reanna named Daisy.
Alas, Reanna got her first real taste of the cattle business. Daisy got sick a few weeks after she was born, and though she was well enough to go out to pasture, she never really seemed to recover fully. We had a hard time breaking the news this fall to our then 8-year-old, who has a particularly tender heart when it comes to her animals, that the first calf of her burgeoning herd had died.
Daisy's illness didn't seem to be any fault of Rosie's, and, because she was already bred, we kept her. And we also kept and bred Minnie, Reanna's second bottle calf heifer, and another heifer that could be for Kennedy, 5.
But the reality is, sometimes things don't work out that way. Sometimes calves die even when we care for them and watch over them. And coming to terms with that reality is probably better done early in life than later.
So far, the 2021 calf crop looks strong. Rosie's little bull calf has been named Max, and he looks strong and vibrant. My husband took Reanna out the day he was born, and she was able to give him a hug and look him over.
We have to check on him most days, at Reanna's insistence, even though neither he nor his mother seem overly excited to see us. (Rosie may have been halter broke but she's all mama cow now.) We also have had to check on Minnie and on Kennedy's heifer, who so far is known just by her eartag number. Minnie still tolerates — and possibly even enjoys — seeing her girl and turns and walks within a few feet of us. She delivered an active little heifer on Thursday, around the time the girls left on the school bus. Reanna named her Susie and seemingly could have watched the little calf bounce around the corral for hours.
I feel like the girls are learning a lot about their animals in our visits. They might also learn lessons in the heartbreaking realities not just of owning cattle but also of the world at large, but that's part of growing up and certainly part of growing up on a farm.
Now, excuse me. I've been told it's time to go out to the corral.
Jenny Schlecht is Agweek's content manager. She lives on a farm and ranch in Medina, N.D., with her husband and two daughters. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 701-595-0425.