The morning before Christmas Eve I looked out my bedroom window to see a sight that had me running out the door immediately, pulling on the rubber boots on our old porch and rushing out to the middle pasture. Annabelle, our Jersey cow was laid out on her side, her head back, eyes rolled eerily. The dirt by her feet was trenched as if she had struggled for a while to stand. Jason was on shift that day and my boys were at their cousins’, so I hollered into the house for Addie to come and, in vain, try to help me do something.
Farming, like other things in life, is manageable and even easy-going when things run as they should. When animals are healthy you feed them and let them be and they do not dominate your every waking thought. But when things go wrong, everything changes.
This wasn’t the first time Annabelle had gone down. Three weeks before she couldn’t stand right before she went into labor with her calf. We had to lift her four times with the tractor and actually pull the baby out. That night Jason and I lay awake struggling with God and pleading with Him to help her to stand. Jason checked on her about 3 AM that next morning and came into the room and told me he thought both baby and mama were doomed, as she was still on the ground. Some point during the watches of the night I had to surrender my cow to the Lord. But in the morning, I went out to check on them and at once burst into tears to see Annabelle up on her feet.
But that was three weeks ago. The day before Christmas Eve I contacted Jason, who told me to call the emergency number for the vet and, when I didn’t get ahold of him immediately, called my neighbors. Our cowboy neighbor just so happened to be available and came right over and helped get Annabelle up on her right side. We were pretty sure she had bloat from being down on the ground, which is a condition that could kill a cow if the air is not released from the cow’s stomach. Fortunately, she began to belch and sitting up as she was, looked so much better. The vet finally contacted me and came over to look at Annabelle. Everything looked okay, except that she was terribly skinny and very weak. But he did not seem hopeful. Normally if a cow does not stand up within 24 hours, they will die. My neighbors and I tried to get her to stand with the tractor that day, but she wouldn’t put any weight on her feet. It didn’t look good.
That night as I was saying goodnight to Jeremiah he said to me, “Mom, I don’t want Annabelle to die.” I looked at him and rubbed his back. My 14 year-old son was a lot bigger than he was when we moved out to the land five years before. Back then we knew nothing about dairy farming, but we plunged right in and each child would take turns milking with me twice a day.
“You know what I would miss the most if we lose Annabelle?” I asked him. His back was muscular and strong. “I will miss the mornings milking with each one of you kids, when the sleep is still in your eyes and you tell me all about the crazy dreams you had the night before.”
Jeremiah laughed. “Thadd was the one with the crazy dreams!” And then, quieter, “Mom, I don’t want to grow up. I don’t want to stop doing the same things I did as a kid.”
My heart surged and fresh tears came as I agreed with him, “I don’t want you to grow up either.” Already my children were growing out of their childish ways. I relished the thought of them remaining children, but I knew it is not meant to be. Things change. But this cow. How precious she would always be to me because of so many things. She was so gentle as she trusted us completely. Her milk literally nourished my family. And she bonded me with my children in a tender way nothing else could.
Jason came home the next day and successfully raised Annabelle to her feet using the tractor. Hence began one of the longest weeks we’ve had, caring for Annabelle and then another cow, who also decided to get weak and not stand. Jason lost out on two family Christmas get-togethers because he was caring for the cows. We would have to get Annabelle to stand, make sure the calf was nursing, give both cows ample food and water when they were down, shelter them creatively in the rain, and cover them and warm them in the cold. It has been laborious, but we are slowly seeing improvement in Annabelle and she is getting stronger every day. She has started to stand up on her own now, but isn’t out of the woods yet. Bobby Sue, our other cow, is still down.
Farming teaches me so many things about life. How absolutely dependent we are on God. How important it is to simply stand up. How precious life is. How vital hope is to the soul. That the mercies of God are new every morning. That His faithfulness is great.
As 2020 comes to a close, I am reminded again how very dependent we are upon the mercies of God. And how important it is to stand.
I waited patiently for the LORD; and He inclined to me, and heard my cry. He brought me up also out of the gruesome pit, out of the miry clay, and set my feet upon a rock, and established my footsteps. And He has put a new song in my mouth, a praise to our God. Many will see and hear and shall trust in the LORD. Blessed is the man that makes the LORD his trust. Psalm 40:1-5