I was in Washington, D.C. for a meeting last week when Glen called.
"We have a dilemma," he said.
Lego, one of the heifers due to calve while I was gone, had a twisted uterus. The good news, Glen said, was that the vets were able to untwist the uterus and deliver a live bull calf. The bad news was that the post-delivery exam revealed a tear in the uterus.
Glen wanted my opinion on whether or not we should try to save Lego.
Back in 2010, we had a cow - Geneva - in the same situation. Given the options, Glen asked our vet to try something different to save her. The idea Glen came up with was a C-section style surgery to stitch up the uterine tear. The surgery went remarkably well. Geneva looked pretty tough for the first day following the procedure, but she bounced back to 100 percent within a week. Dairy cows are incredibly resilient.
Lego was in great condition and she had youth on her side. She would probably do just as well as Geneva, but there was a chance that the surgery wouldn't go well.
The decision was complicated by the fact that Lego was one of Dan's special heifers. Her mother, Lucy, had been Dan's special cow for years. Dan had shown Lego at the fair when she was a calf and Lego had grown up to be a gorgeous heifer. Welcoming Lego into the milking herd was the glimmer of hope that Dan had held onto when Lucy died unexpectedly in April.
Glen and I talked through the options and decided to proceed with the surgery. I found out shortly after, though, that it had become clear that saving Lego was no longer an option.
Glen explained to Dan and Monika what had happened to Lego and they all cried together as they said goodbye. From 1,212 miles way, I cried with them.
I cried mostly for Dan, because I knew how broken hearted he would be. Dan had taken all of his affection for Lucy and added it to his love for Lego. Saying goodbye to both Lucy and Lego in such a short period of time would be devastating.
I cried for Glen. He takes care of all the chores when I'm gone, which is enough to handle without having to deal with a loss like this. Plus, Glen has never been one to give up on a cow (or calf). Whenever there has been a chance, no matter how small, of saving a cow, Glen has voted to save, regardless of the economics of the decision or the extra work that will follow. His dedication to our cows has allowed so many to recover from situations with unthinkable odds. The situations where there isn't a choice are the hardest to accept.
I cried because I couldn't be there. I couldn't be there to say goodbye to Lego myself. And I couldn't be there for my family. One of the worst feelings in the world is being miles away when your husband and kids need hugs and a shoulder to cry on.
I cried because life isn't fair. Dan has had the worst luck with his fair calves - not a single one has gone on to have a heifer calf. Meanwhile, his sister's fair calves have multiplied themselves into a small herd.
And I cried because Lego was the last one in her family.
Most of our cow families - Lucy's and Lego's family included - are descendants of the cows we bought from my dad. During his last couple years of dairy farming, my Dad also worked off the farm, so he switched from A.I. to using a herd bull. Those bulls came from Glen's dad. So the cows we started with were a combination of the genetics from my childhood cows and Glen's childhood cows. We can trace their lineage back through countless generations.
When it comes time to say goodbye to a cow, for whatever reason, it always helps to be able to say, "Well, she gave us a couple daughters. The family will live on."
When the loss of a cow is the end of a family, the loss seems greater. It's like there's no more hope.
I always try to find the silver lining in an unfortunate event, but I couldn't find a happy ending for what happened to Lego.
I had hoped that working with this year's fair calves - Maven and Obsidian - would help take Dan's mind off of losing Lego. But, we were standing outside the ring at last Friday's Central Minnesota Dairy Day Youth Show and Dan spotted a calf who's eartag had the name Lucy on it. He pointed to it, with tears filling his eyes, and said, "That makes me miss Lucy."
I told him I understood and gave him a hug. He put his smile back on and led Maven into the ring. Obsidian didn't go to this show because she's still ridiculously stubborn on the halter. Dan's hoping she'll come around in time for the county fair.
After the youth show, Dan has another reason to hope.
His name was drawn from all exhibitors for the grand prize: a registered Holstein winter calf. For the past six years, the Stearns County Holstein Club has purchased a registered Holstein calf to give away at the youth show. This year's calf was purchased at the Damhof Dairy dispersal in April.
After Dan's name was called, it took a second for him to understand. Then he ran to the calf. You've never seen a smile so big on a boy's face.
By the time I caught up with my camera, he was already asking questions.
"What's her name, Mom? Can I give her an 'L' name?" Dan asked.
In that moment I realized what winning this calf meant to Dan and it was my turn for tear-filled eyes. This calf was new hope for his broken heart. The start of his very own cow family.
Dan named his calf Legend to honor the memories of Lucy and Lego. I'm hoping with him that Legend will become her name. That she will be the beginning of a lifelong story that started with winning a calf at a show.
Hats off to the Stearns County Holstein Club and the supporters of the Central Minnesota Dairy Day Youth Show for an excellent show and for giving one boy a reason to hope.
Sometimes we find the happy endings - and new beginnings - where we least expect them.