When I was a little kid, it was easy to see my dad as a superhero. He would get up at four o’clock in the morning and go outside and work on the farm all day long. He wouldn’t come in until about 7 o’clock that night. He could do anything and everything. He appeared to have unlimited strength; many times I saw him pick a stubborn calf up off the ground and carry it from the calving pen to the little red calf hutches that end our back yard and begin our farm. He could also fix anything. Whenever a tractor broke, my dad would go out to the shop, crawl underneath the tractor, play around for a few minutes, come back out from underneath the massive John Deere, think for a few minutes, then go over to the toolbox and grab some tools. A short while later, our employee was back out in the field. Yup, my dad could do anything.
I always wanted to be a farmer, just like my dad. I remember many times during the winter when he would come into the house and ask me to come outside and help him with something. I would eagerly get my barn clothes on and follow him outside, stepping in exactly every footprint he made in the snow. I still do that today, but it is getting harder. Farming is very complicated, and my father made it look easy. The more I worked and the more experience I got on the farm, the less I believed that I could ever be a farmer. I didn’t even like giving a cow a shot; there was no way I could ever operate a farm on my own.
As children, my siblings and I were never subjected to the slaughtering of cows. Even though we knew about it, we didn’t really like to think about it. But, as we got older, we understood more about why some of the cows needed to be put down. I have witnessed my father make decisions about whether to get rid of a cow quite a few times in the last couple years, and even though I’m older, I still hate the thought of it. Since I milked the cows practically every day my junior and senior years of high school, and worked on the farm all last year, I have become extremely attached to all the cows that I take care of. I hate to see one get sick. A few years ago, I remember when one of my favorite cows, Helga, could not get up out of her stall because her feet were so bad. My father and our employee were able to pick her up with the skid steer and move her, but after a few weeks of trying to cure her, she did not get better. Calling our poor excuse for a vet was a useless idea, so my father then had to make the decision to keep her or not, and of course, she had to go. So, my father made the decision, and our employee went out and shot her. I don’t quite know how my father makes decisions like that; I know I never could. Even though he is not the one who put Helga down, I know he has put a few cows down himself, and I know he hates having to do it. It is decisions like these that dissuade me from becoming a dairy farmer and make me really admire my dad.
As I am now older and working on the farm, I see my father in a much different light than I saw him when I was younger. He is still amazing, no doubt about that, but he is different. On any regular day, you never hear my father ever say a swear word, ever. Most of the people in my small town cannot utter a sentence without swearing, but my father is definitely not like this. But, when he gets frustrated enough while trying to put a random piece of machinery together or trying to get a cow with a bum foot get up out of the stall, he swears like a fiend. And it’s surprising. But it’s also understandable. Hell, I only milked cows for about four years, and I would have swearing fits when a cow started kicking at the milking machine.
The one night I saw my father in a totally different light was the night a cow was calving twins— one that had been dead inside the womb for days, and the other that was backwards. In order to save the mother’s life and to get the backwards calf out, my father helped the cow push her dead calf halfway out and then used a regular electric saw to cut the calf in two. The first half of the calf fell to the ground, and the mother was able to push the other half out. It was a very gruesome sight, and it was not exactly something that my father wanted to do— but he did save the life of the mother. I knew right then and there that my father was even more amazing than I ever thought before, and that I could never, ever become as wonderful a farmer as he is.
The fact that my father farmed, well, practically his whole life, with only two heart valves is even more amazing. Oh, the story gets better. In the spring of 2006, my father had heart surgery to replace the heart valve that he’s been missing his whole life. Ironically enough, the surgeon placed a bovine valve into his heart. And my father, after the surgery, proclaimed that the cows were “finally giving back to him.”