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Getting it done in the barn

Holly Spangler Nathan Spangler sticking his arm into a cow's behind
GET IT DONE: Could she have done it on her own? Very possibly. Turns out, so could he.
It’s nice when a cow can have a calf on her own, but even better to know your son can handle it if she can’t.

I was backing out of the garage, about to head out on a photo shoot. Nathan, my 17-year-old son, pulled out just ahead of me, headed to work on a school project.

But he stopped by the barn to check his heifer one last time. She was due to calve any minute, and we’d been watching her do nothing for a week at that point. But sure enough — now was the time.

Say it with me: OF COURSE. We both had places to be. Plus, after two days at the National Farm Machinery Show, the farmer was due back in nine hours. She was running out of time to maximize her mischief.

Nathan changed clothes. I grabbed the OB sleeves. He haltered and tied. I handed him the calving straps. He got one strap around its ankle. I hooked the handle on and kept it taut. He worked and worked and worked and finally got the second strap on the second ankle. Second one’s always harder. And then we pulled. The heifer went down, laying down at the perfect angle. We pulled some more. Out he came.

A nice little black calf, he was breathing and sneezing right away. I swiped afterbirth out of his mouth and tickled his nose with a piece of hay. Nathan untied the cow and drug the calf around by her.

And then the magic happened. She got a whiff of him. She started licking and mooing and sniffing and licking. In that split second, a semi-lazy show heifer became a momma cow. And not to overstate it, but I’m not sure there’s any more magical moment in all of animal agriculture than when a first-calf heifer catches the scent of her baby and decides she’s going to mother it.

We looked at each other and said, “I think she’s good! Let’s go!”

And then we were both off again.

The cow was up, she had water and a warm barn and a new baby. Could she have done it on her own? Very possibly. We didn’t have time to wait around and find out. But I learned something even better that day: Nathan could’ve done it on his own, too. And that was just as valuable.

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