Aug. 24 2023 10:03 AM

Farmers do important work, but we can’t control everything.

I recently had one of those moments of frustration that turned to humility. As farmers, running 24/7/365 is the life. We have a very high stress job because so many different entities depend on us each and every day. From the animals to the crops, and even the people in our lives, we have the weight of the world on our shoulders. Even as our profession is typically looked down on, we have the single most important job in the world as we are responsible for the food everyone needs to survive. No matter what diet a person prefers, it’s our job to provide for them. Sometimes, though, as intense as our jobs are and as superhuman as we may be, there are moments that remind us that we are also just human.

Now, before I tell y’all my story, I do believe I should add some key details for context. At my tallest, I stand at 5 foot 4 inches. My cows, on the other hand, are monsters. Their backs are roughly 3 inches or more taller than my head. We focus in on breeding for health traits, and, for the most part, it has worked. My herd’s average age is around 7 to 8 years old, and the cows average at least four or five lactations before they may be culled. However, they are enormous compared to most, and God did not give me my father’s height. Instead, I was blessed with my short height and determined attitude.

A few weeks ago, my father was out of town, and, of course, on the day he is due to return, I had one cow calve in without any problems and another cow trying to have a calf backwards. Once we eased the struggling cow into our working pen, I went to work trying to get the calf out. It didn’t take too long to find the calf’s legs and wrap the obstetrical chains around his legs and quickly get him out. The rule on our farm is that if you pull a calf, always check for another, so I did. I didn’t feel another one, so I inserted uterine boluses (yes, I know it’s advised against, but it’s always worked well for us) and gave her some dexamethasone for inflammation and some ceftiofur to help with any infection that may occur. While I cleaned up, the boys helping me fed and watered the cow, and we left her and her live baby boy alone.

Two hours later when I went to feed the colostrum replacer, I found the bull calf in the middle of the barnyard, where he had crawled under the fence and got out. When I put him back, I saw a second calf lying next to the cow. She did have another one after all — but I was too short to feel the second twin (another bull) when I checked.

I got lucky because the cow had the second calf without any issues, but it was a humbling moment for me. I had run around the last few days doing everything and anything for everyone, and in that moment, I realized that mistakes happen and no one is perfect. We get lucky when things go right, but we can’t control everything. We are under high stress all day, every day, and sometimes, something like this brings us back to the reality that we are only human. Stay safe out there, folks.

Courtney Henderson

The author is a sixth-generation farmer and fifth-generation dairy producer in southwest Virginia, where she and her family own and operate a 145-head Holstein dairy. Courtney is involved in agriculture organizations throughout her community and is a graduate of Virginia Tech.