Off by One

My count was off by one.  Here it was the first day of the year and I had lost a cow.  The night of solstice had been long, but well worth it.  Some time ago we had let the calendared new year go in favor of what is natural to our place.  The evening lacked the neighbor’s fireworks but the clear starlit night was fair compensation.  Mutuality lies in a night sky.  If one takes the time to look, stars strut their brilliance and give us an amazement that cannot be rocketed into the sky.

I had put off feeding until morning light.  I was to wean calves and separate them from their mama’s this morning and doing so prior to feeding is easier.  The morning had gone well.  Cows were in their winter pasture and calves just across the fenceline in the weaning pasture.  Having finished feeding cows and weaners, I stood near the fence and took a count.  One off.  Counting again I got the same number.  One more counting and arriving at the same number again had me climbing into the pickup bed, standing, and counting again.  Surely a different perspective would come up with the correct number. It didn’t.  That left scanning all the pastures in the back forty.  Sure enough, in the far southwest corner stood a single cow.  Just standing.  Her not moving indicated one thing.

We have two early calvers in the herd.  And looking over the feeding cows told the story.  One of the early calving cows was not feeding with the others.  Sometime last night she must have separated from herd, found an isolated spot, and calved.  The first question that came to mind is how is the calf doing on a below freezing morning?  We do our best at husbandry and best would have been to have the cow near the barn last night.  This was a second-best day.  It would take some time to move cow and calf to the barn.  However, it went well.  An hour and a phone call for help later—and a fair amount of coaxing mamma to move from her birthing place—cow and calf were fed and bedded in the barn.

Five days later.  A cold dark morning has me thinking of the child in a manger story.  I cannot help but wonder how a story about the poor, disenfranchised, homeless, and hungry became commodified by State and business.  In the coldest of seasons, when one begins to wonder if it is ever going to warm up again, one might also wonder what honor does our community have when so many children (and their parents) exist in the 2021 equivalent of a manger.  While a cow and calf are bedded “uptown.”  Seven miles from the farm, in a grove of trees, lives a tented community of my siblings; on a twenty-six-degree morning.  Can I or my community have dignity when we believe charity of clothing and food is adequate?  Is there honor when my care for a babe in a manger is less than my husbandry practices for a cow and calf?

The sun is just breaking over the southern ridge; south by southwest.  Blue sky and cold.  The cows and weaners are beginning to rise from their bedding.  Time to feed.  Time to wonder.  Time for honor?

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