Trailers loaded with life lessons

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Anyone who has ever loaded up a trailer and headed to a show knows the months, if not years, of preparation that is involved. 

Anyone who has ever loaded up a trailer and headed to a show knows about the work – the repetitive, daily grind that goes into caring for their animals. 

Anyone who has ever loaded up a trailer and headed to a show knows about the satisfaction that comes from seeing that animal, all dolled up, looking its best. 

Anyone who has ever loaded up a trailer and headed to a show knows the feeling when a special one is no longer there to hop on the trailer. 

Anyone who has ever loaded up a trailer and headed to a show knows about the camaraderie among exhibitors, the connections made and the life-long friendships grown. 

Anyone who has ever loaded up a trailer and headed to a show knows that the greatest reward for all of their hard work does not come in the form of a ribbon in the show ring but instead in the valuable life lessons they have learned along the way.          

The most fortunate of kids get to spend their summers learning all those things. They learn the value of hard work and dedication and how it comes to pay off in the long run. They learn what it means to be responsible and to have a living creature depend on them for everything. They witness the bond that is created by being a caretaker. They learn what it feels like to put the needs of another ahead of their own.

These luckiest of kids learn what it feels like to make money and lose money and the value of a dollar.

The most fortunate witness the splendor of a new life coming into the world. They also witness the heartbreak of losing something precious to them, to which they have invested a piece of their soul.

Those most fortunate will eventually learn that all of those lessons will be what guide them through their lives.

I had the fortune of being one of the lucky kids.

Everyone remembers the first calf they showed. Mine was Lindy, and I grew up surrounded by her family. I slept by her grandmother in the barn, and her mother’s sister was my first calf. It was only fitting that family joined me in that rite of passage.

Lindy was white and speckled, a January-born Holstein calf. I showed her in the open class at the Monroe County Fair just before my 5th birthday. Lindy could be a little spunky, to say the least. Despite the time my dad and I spent training her at home, she did get away from me in the show ring. 

Lindy taught me my first lesson in determination and the importance of getting back up when you have been knocked down. I was afraid to grab back onto the halter after Lindy got away, but my dad wiped away my tears, handed me the lead strap and stayed a little closer. Lindy and I made it through the rest of the class. I have no idea what color ribbon Lindy got that day, but I can remember walking out of the ring with my dad, smiling in the wake of my tears.  

When I was 10 or 11 years old, my dad and I trekked off to West Salem, Wisconsin, to exhibit at the District 2 Holstein Show for the first time. I remember my dad telling me there were two girls I should go meet and make friends with. He took me over and introduced me to the two girls, and my first true “cow friendship” was born. Cara Lee, Jenelle Plank and I became fast friends and spent lots of time at cow shows and Junior Holstein activities together. We teamed up to compete in dairy bowl and in the classification and judging contest at the Wisconsin State Show, even pulling off a win in the classification contest. Time passes, and unfortunately, I do not see Cara Lee as often as I would like. We lost a young and vibrant Jenelle to cancer 13 years ago. But I think of those girls often and smile when I remember the times we spent together. 

The lesson of loss unfortunately comes often on a dairy farm, and as the old adage goes, “Where there is livestock, there is sure to be dead stock.” The cows – like the people we love – never live as long as we want or need them to. Some days I sit and look through old photos and page through old registration papers, thinking about all of the cows that have been a part of my life and all of the people I have met because of them. I have walked into the barn, ready to start a new day, only to find a favorite has died overnight. I have struggled and fought and done everything I can think of to try and make a sick one healthy. I have sat and cried and prayed for a sign of improvement. I have sat in the straw, with a head lying on my lap, offering my love and compassion, waiting for the end. I have watched my son go through the loss of his first special one, cries of agony I will never forget. 

The older I get, the more I come to realize and learn that life does not follow a script and that it is far from easy or perfect. The struggles, while mundane at times, seem to grow, and I begin to question how much more I can handle. Fortunately for me, I was one of the lucky kids who loaded up a trailer and headed to a show. 

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