On a cold, snowy night in late March on the North Dakota plains, I was 4 years old, and knew this was a special time of the year on the ranch. As my mom tucked me into bed, I asked, “Where’s Daddy?” Gently settling my covers, she answered, “He’s outside checking on the cattle to make sure they are safe and to help any momma cows give birth to their baby calves. ”We said our prayers – with a special one for my dad and the cows and the little calves – and I drifted off to a peaceful sleep. Several hours later I was awakened by the sounds of a bellowing calf in our house. As curious 4 year old I sprang from my bed and ran down the stairs to see my dad sprinkled with snowflakes and icicles coating his mustache, carrying a shivering newborn calf into our kitchen. I stood in my nightgown and asked, “Is he going to be OK?” My dad confidently responded, “Don’t worry, we’ll warm him up and get him ready to go back out to see his mom in a few hours,” as we gently dried the calf off and wrapped him in pink bathroom towels.
The ritual of bringing newborn calves into our home during North Dakota blizzards was just one memorable part of life on the ranch. When I was old enough to be in the barn during the birthing process, I got to witness firsthand the joys and sorrows of calving. I vividly remember watching my dad rejoice as a newborn calf took its first breath after a difficult birth only to see him shed a silent tear as he turned to the mother and watched her breathe her last breath.
Our farm animals were not pets, but we cared for them with the pride and dedication that people give to their family pets. It hurts me when I hear people say that farmers don’t care about their animals because I know firsthand that they do!
Adapted from a story told by Char Heer, RD, Program Manager, Midwest Dairy Association
Char’s story, which she shared during a storytelling workshop I led for the Midwest Dairy Association, shattered some of my misconceptions of modern day farming and moved me to delve deeper into life on the farm. It also stirred memories of my mom’s stories about growing up on a dairy farm, as well as my experiences at my grandparent’s farm. I learned that while farming life today has technological advantages that my mother’s family farm did not have in the 1930s and 1940s, present-day farmers’ love for their animals and the land are grounded in the values of the settlers who populated the farmlands of America.
This narrative might help us think about “the people who supply our food” as we traverse the grocery shelves, set our family tables, and enjoy restaurant and take-out meals. Farm life is full of stories about struggles against the elements, triumphs in overcoming odds, compassion for animals, and a deep commitment to the land that supports their life.
Char shared with me that her father would occasionally muse, “I wish we could bring some city folk out here to see how hard we work to put food on the table.” While I didn’t visit their ranch, Char’s stories transported me there and make the statement “farmers care” come to life for me. What stories bust your myths and ignite new ideas about the fundamentals in your life?