Joy and sorrow

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“When you are joyous, look deep into your heart and you shall find it is only that which has given you sorrow that is giving you joy.
“When you are sorrowful, look again in your heart, and you shall see that in truth you are weeping for that which has been your delight.” – Kahlil Gibran
No quote is more accurate when it comes to show cows. Showing cows has brought our kids – and all of us, really – much joy and delight but also tremendous heartbreak and sorrow.
We experienced a rollercoaster of all the emotions when Dan’s beloved Milking Shorthorn cow, Glitzy, calved last month.
To start, Glitzy was overdue, so we were all disappointingly convinced she’d have another bull calf. But, she proved us wrong when Glen helped her deliver a big, beautiful heifer calf. And, by beautiful, I mean gorgeous, with the best Milking Shorthorn markings.
Everyone’s excitement reached peak levels within minutes, thanks to the instant communication text messaging allows. Ideas for naming her were exchanged. Arguments about who was going to show her ensued. Fresh out of the state FFA dairy judging contest, Dan said it was the best day of the month.
But something was wrong. Glitzy’s beautiful baby didn’t have a suckle reflex – even after 24 hours. We tried every trick we could think of to get her started. By the time Dan returned from the FFA convention, I was worried; I warned him it didn’t look good.
Glitzy’s calf couldn’t stand on her own either. She held a recumbent position just fine and looked perfectly normal except for labored breathing. I called the vet; he said we’d already done everything he’d recommend. We suspect she had a heart defect or some other congenital abnormality.
Losing her was heartbreaking.
With the sorrows come the joys. One of Monika’s show cows made a delightful experience possible last week.
It started with a phone call from Glen’s dad, Vern. Vern wanted to know if we’d be willing to bring a cow to camp for a young adult retreat.
Vern has worked at Camp Lebanon, a nearby Bible camp, since shortly after retiring from dairy farming. In that time, Camp Lebanon has become a special place for our entire family. Glen’s family celebrates Christmas there, and our kids attend their summer camps. We even had our children baptized there.
Vern went on to explain that the retreat organizers wanted the participants to learn how to milk a cow.
We’ve had lots of interesting requests to teach cow milking over the years; our students include some famous food bloggers, a senator, and a physician from Nigeria. This was the first time we’ve been asked to teach cow milking on location.
Of course, I agreed. One of my favorite parts of dairy farming is helping others better understand cows and dairy farms.
“Really?” was Vern’s incredulous reply. I think he thought we’d find the request too crazy. And, truly, if our kids didn’t show cows, it might have been.
I knew immediately which cow would go to camp: Sunlight.
Sunlight is a 6-year-old Jersey who has been on the halter since she was a March calf. Monika showed her for five consecutive years at our county fair. Sunlight missed last year’s fair due to an untimely pregnancy loss but might return this year. She truly loves people and affection. She also never so much as shifts her weight during milking.
Monika was ecstatic when I shared the news we’d be bringing Sunlight to Camp Lebanon. She said it was the most unexpected combination of two of her favorite things. She beamed a mega-watt smile the whole way to camp.
Without electricity and a vacuum pump, we couldn’t exactly show the retreat participants how we milk our cows. But we did show them how to strip milk from a teat and let them all try.
We also answered their amazing questions. We talked about everything from A.I. to homogenization to the economics of the dairy industry.
For all of the opportunities I’ve had to explain dairy farming to others, this was my first time interacting with a group of young adults. This is definitely a demographic we should be having conversations with more often – either by bringing them to our farms or by bringing cows to them.
Through it all, Sunlight was perfect. She stood calmly while people pet her, posed for pictures, and showed incredible patience while everyone tried milking her. In between sessions, she did a little lawn mowing.
Monika beamed the whole way home.
Joyful experiences like taking Sunlight to camp make the painful moments bearable. And, all in all, I’d say our kids’ joys have outnumbered their heartbreaks.
    Sadie and her husband, Glen, milk 100 cows near Melrose, Minnesota. They have three children – Dan, Monika, and Daphne. Sadie also writes a blog at www.dairygoodlife.com. She can be reached at sadiefrericks@gmail.com.

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