Marilyn Hershey

I recently heard about a conversation among employees that made me smile. A couple of guys were talking to a new female employee about how feeding calves is much better suited for females than males.

Both of the boys, in their eyes, had done their fair share of calf feeding, and neither felt that it was a good fit for them. They determined that feeding baby calves needs to stay in the hands of those that seem to have more patience, and they are convinced that female employees are much better at that chore.

Interestingly, the same employees that don’t want to feed calves will spend hours upon hours driving up and down the silage pack or hauling manure to the fields. For some reason, they have all the patience in the world for work that includes a roaring engine and four wheels.

When I look at the definition of patience, Merriam-Webster says this about being patient: bearing pains or trials calmly or without complaint; manifesting forbearance under provocation or strain; not hasty or impetuous; and steadfast despite opposition, difficulty, or adversity.

I agree that the definition also describes a quality calf feeder, but I am certainly not convinced that the job is gender specific. My father is the most patient person I know, and he spends a lot of time with calves that do not cooperate. He put his time in on tractors and trucks, and now he is more than happy to give calves the extra attention they need.

The other day I was feeding a bull calf a bottle of milk. The calf was energetic and full of spunk but when it came to drinking, it was more interested in rolling its tongue around and bucking the bottle across the pen than drinking the milk inside.

I had zero tolerance for this nonsense. However, I was stuck with this bull calf, or should I say, it was stuck with me because the one who has the most patience on the farm had a rare day off.

Experience has taught me that walking away was the best option. Giving the calf time to think about its actions proved the better method for both of us. When I came back an hour later, the calf cooperated.

Looking at farming over the past decades, patience does not only apply to calf feeding. That definition also sums up all of our farming lifestyle. And it seems that in our farm’s case, patience is not a gender thing as much as a tag-teaming thing.

In the past, there have been times that Duane carried a lot more tolerance than I, and then there are situations that I, in turn, have more patience than he does. It is nice, as we partner on the farm, that we keep each other on task.

When I am impatient about something, he reminds me of why we are waiting. Then I tolerate the situation in a calmer manner.

A number of years ago we had a calf that needed a lot of patience to make it through. Unfortunately for the calf, its mother stepped on its leg as a newborn calf. The damage was significant, and it wasn’t long before infection set in.

We started a treatment plan, but we were not given much hope for the calf’s recovery. I was frustrated; the calf came from a great cow family, one that I considered a foundational brood cow, and I did not want to lose this beautiful heifer calf.

I gathered up ointment and foot wrap, both in the equine section and the dairy aisle. I redressed the wound, sometimes twice a day. The calf was high maintenance for many weeks, and there were days that I second-guessed my perseverance and the decision to keep trying.

Today, I can look back and know we made the right decision. That heifer calf has been milking in the herd for a number of years, stands strong on all four legs, and has had healthy calves to continue the family’s excellence.

Having patience and putting in the time does not always mean having results like this. We do not have to farm very long to know this is not the case every time. However, a win like this from time to time gives us an extra dose of forbearance in the next trial to come our way. Trials and opposition are part of life.

I recently listened to an online update about new and innovative technology that is soon to be released. It was obvious that patience is not a virtue to be desired in the technology world. We want our technology faster, truer to life, and instant to touch.

I am all about using technology on the farm, but some of the best things in life are daily happenings that cause us to pause and to wait; like the sunrise in early morning, a newborn calf to be born, and waiting for the weather to clear so we can harvest crops from the fields. We know those special moments are worth the extra time and energy.

The bottom line on patience is that it is no respecter of persons. It does not matter if you are an employee or a farm owner, if you are male or female; patience is something we need to draw from every farming day.

The author and her husband, Duane, own and operate a 550-cow dairy in Cochranville, Pa.