In the spring of 1979, three of our neighbor's newly purchased springers gave birth to what he considered to be "the ugliest looking calves you've ever seen."

My father, just starting out, traded 40 acres worth of that season's hay crop for those three blue roan calves - two heifers, later named Dusty and Lashes, and a steer. And so began our family's experience with crossbreeding and our infatuation with cattle of color. Not even my father could have predicted how pivotal that trade was.

Dusty was always bred with Holstein sires, creating a line of blue roan and black and white speckled bovines. Lashes was bred to Milking Shorthorn sires; her calves were red roan and red and white speckled. They were all adorable. My sisters and I would squeal with delight each time a spotted calf was born - regardless of the color. But the roan and the red speckled calves always garnered extra attention. Composition is supposed to be more important than color when it comes to dairy cattle, but color is a lot more exciting.

Lashes's first nine calves (out of 13) were heifers; Dusty had a half-dozen heifer calves herself. Those calves' bloodlines crossed back and forth between breeds like a zig zag stitch on a hemline. Then my dad added Brown Swiss and Red and White Holsteins to the mix and predicting the calf's phenotype became anyone's guess. (I understood heredity long before my sixth grade teacher sketched Mendel's Square on the chalkboard.)

Today - 30 years since those blue roans first melted my dad's heart - 48 of the 116 females in our herd can trace their lineage back to Lashes or Dusty. But of all the cows and calves that have come and gone, and those still with us today, there's one red and white cow who has earned a permanent place in my heart.

I started showing cattle at the relatively old age of 15. Anyone with kids who show knows that along with the show halter in hand comes mating ideas. More than anything else, I wanted a red heifer calf to bring to the fair, so I made sure Gypsy, one of Lashes's red speckled granddaughters, was mated to a Milking Shorthorn.

In the spring of 1997, my dream came true when Ginny was born. I had my show heifer. I'm not sure my dad approved of all the special treatment I lavished on Ginny, but he went along with it. I beamed when Ginny, although a bit over conditioned earned us a trip to the state fair as a junior yearling.

When I left for college, my mother wrote to tell me Ginny looked lonely. When my dad talked about selling the cows before Glen and I were ready to start farming, I asked, "What are you going to do with Ginny?" When Glen and I finally did start farming, Ginny was there to welcome me back.

But that first spring, after the calving rush was nearly over, Ginny still hadn't calved. We had decided that, for economical reasons, any cows declared open by ultrasound would be sold. When the vet said "no one's home" after examining Ginny, I tried to accept her fate.

As the cattle jockey was pulling into the yard to pick up Ginny and the three other open cows, I went into the holding pen to say good-bye to my friend. With my arms around her neck and my forehead pressed against her, I thanked Ginny for all the good years. For helping me become a Golden Gopher. For helping me meet Glen. For helping me become a farmer. And through my tears, it became clear what needed to be done.

I ran back into the parlor where Glen was washing up. He saw my tears and later said he knew what was coming.

"I can't do it, Glen. I can't sell her. Please, let's just give her one more chance," I pleaded as I presented my stall tactic. "If she's not settled by September, we'll sell her then."

Glen wrapped me up in a hug, dried my tears and said, "Yeah, we can give Ginny another chance. I figured this would happen."

Sometimes it's hard to make your mind overrule your heart. I guess that's why farming is so much more than a business - at least for me.

That September, I held my breath as Ginny walked into the chute to be palpated.

"Pregnant. About 70 days."

I did a little happy dance to the music of the vet's words.

In the spring of 2006, Ginny redeemed herself (and me) with a spunky little heifer calf. The heifer was only our third out of 15 calvings. I was so excited to have a heifer calf that I wouldn't have cared if she had been black and white. But she wasn't. She was red. Our very first red heifer calf. And Ginny's first red heifer calf - her other heifer calves were the products of Holstein matings and, consequently, were black. I gave Ginny's calf the most fitting name I could think of: Grace.

Last Saturday, Grace finally joined her mother in the milking string. I suppose we probably should have sold Grace after she aborted her calf last spring, rather than incur the expense of feeding her for another 12 months, but we felt somehow responsible for the situation and wanted to make right. In this battle between heart and mind, heart won. Grace will continue the legacy of second chances she inherited along with her speckles.

And Grace's calf? A beautiful little red and white speckled heifer. A spitting image of her great-great-grandmother, Ginger, my dad's first red heifer calf. I contemplated naming her Ginger, but I think she's going to be called Gracias. Thank you, Grace, for one of the prettiest looking calves I've ever seen.

Sadie and her husband, Glen, milk 50 cows near Melrose, Minnesota with help from their two-year-old son, Dan and their newborn girl, Monika. When she's not farming, she's writing for the Dairy Star. She can be reached at gsfrericks@meltel.net.