When calves become part of the family
Warren MacIntosh knows that there are a few cows on his Apple Hill dairy operation that are considered untouchable.
One of them is a Holstein called Alleluia, which was named by Mr. MacIntosh’s now 20-year-old-daughter, Kelsey, when Alleluia was just a calf.
“I still visit her out in the field,” Kelsey says. “I can even go into the barn and call her name and she’ll come to me.”
Kelsey has been a part of Alleluia’s life almost since the day she was born. It was Kelsey who washed her, fed her, and taught her to be led in various 4-H competitions.
Kelsey’s mother, Trudy, says that dairy cows are usually turned into hamburger meat when they get older. On the MacIntosh farm they’re usually kept around a bit longer or sold for breeding stock but some – like Alleluia – are kept, more or less, as pets.
“The calves become part of the family,” she says. “We don’t have a dog or any housepets and the kids spend so much time with the cows that they form bonds with them.”
In fact, Mrs. MacIntosh says that her oldest daughter, Brittany, even had a cow that pouted after realizing she wasn’t going off to another 4-H show.
“The cow just leaned her head on the fence and watched the truck pull out,” Mrs. MacIntosh reports. “She had a look on her face like ‘What did I do wrong?’”
Kirk Hill area resident Bethany MacDonald, 24, was also involved in 4-H from ages 10 to 21. Like Kelsey MacIntosh, she knows all too well the reality of bonding with a calf.
“You basically raise them and then things happen,” she says. “Sometimes they’ll get sick and you can’t fix it or you sell it to another farm.”
Although she never had a calf die on her, she has had some that developed pneumonia.
“You treat them and they get better,” she says.
Jennifer Fraser, of Gleneil Farms, now 32, hasn’t been a 4H member for more than 10 years but she also understands how hard it can be raising calves.
“I grew up on a beef farm and I showed beef and dairy calves in 4-H,” she says. “Ninety per cent of the time, the cows just stayed on the farm and became part of the next generation.”
It’s the other 10 per cent where the heartbreak lies.
“I wound up showing a steer one year and unfortunately they don’t stay around,” she says. “It’s kind of sad. You spend a summer bonding with an animal and then they’re leaving and you know they’re not leaving for the happy pasture but you suck it up. That’s the reality of farming – you deal with it.”
She says that it’s not unusual for very young children to cry over their calves.
“You think of them as family,” she says. “They’re your buddy. Every day of the summer, you’re with them.”
Others, like Bainsville area resident Steve Glaude, says it was never very difficult because the calves he raised in 4-H tended to go back to his family’s farm.
“We raise them and we get offspring out of them and I feel a sense of accomplishment from it,” he says.
Mr. Glaude, who at the age of 23 has just said goodbye to an 11-year 4-H career, says he’s never had to sell a calf but admits it wouldn’t be the easiest thing to do.
“That’s because you put a lot of work into it,” he says.
REALITY CHECK: While young people form bonds with farm animals, they also realize that livestock does not live forever.