Tough Lessons to Learn

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My daughters learned more than they bargained for in their 4-H bucket calf projects this year.

Published on: August 11, 2011

My daughters learned more than they bargained for in their 4-H bucket calf projects this year.

Today was supposed to be entry day for livestock at the Knox County Fair. For most 4-H and FFA members in the county, it was. But for my daughters, unfortunately, it was not.

Both daughters have been caring for bucket calves all summer. The baby calves, named Memorial and Maple, have been partners in their pens. Daughters, Lauren and Taylor, have been feeding the calves and in recent weeks have made great strides in teaching their calves the fine arts of leading with a halter and being bathed and brushed.

Of course, along with all of this fuss, the calves have come to adore the extra attention that is not offered to their counterparts grazing free out in our pastures. These calves are not roughing it. They have more hay, more bedding and more shelter than any of the other calves. They are big babies, and my daughters are quite happy to give them TLC.

Taylor Arens brushes her calf, Maple, preparing the calf for the Knox County Fair. But Maple came down with a bad cold on fair entry day, helping to teach the Arens girls a valuable lesson.

But yesterday, as the girls were working with their calves, preparing for entry day of the fair, I noticed both calves had a terrible cough. With the extreme heat we’ve suffered through this summer, followed by recent days that were almost cold in the mornings, our calves were sick.

Early on, I was in denial. I had fleeting thoughts of treating them right away. I hated to admit it yesterday, because it wasn’t very obvious. But this morning, both calves were running temperatures and had the cough that could lead to pneumonia.

I had hooked up the horse trailer to the pickup last night and we had gathered feed and hay for the calves to stay at the fairgrounds for a couple of days. But when I realized that the calves were both sick this morning, as you can imagine, I was sick too.

I dreaded telling my daughters that their hard work all summer would not be on display this year at the fair. I knew there would be tears, and that was just from me. This sinking feeling in the pit of my stomach became even stronger as the time drew near when I would have to give Lauren and Taylor the bad news.

Finally, after discussing the situation with my wife, we told them together. It was just the way life goes. We couldn’t take sick calves to the fair, and take a chance of getting other calves sick too. We had to get our calves treated for their bad coughs for their own health. That’s the way it is with livestock. Bad things happen, sometimes to good people and good calves.

Both daughters were understandably disappointed. They had looked forward to exhibiting their calves at the bucket calf show on Friday of the fair with the other members in their club. They looked forward to telling the judge all about their projects. They had worked long and hard at the bucket calf record books, figuring the rate of gain, cost of gain and loss or gain on the project, just like any good cattle producer might do.

We explained to the girls that just because they couldn’t show the calves at the fair doesn’t mean that their projects are not successful. We can treat the calves for their illness and they will recover just fine. The girls can still turn in their project record books and go through the judging and interview processes on their project, without showing their animals. They will still receive a ribbon for their project work. And the best part is that Lauren, who has a bull calf, will receive the money from the calf when we sell it next spring. Taylor, who has a heifer calf, will own a calf in our cow herd that will produce babies of her own in the coming years.

So, today my daughters learned a tough, but valuable lesson about farming and ranching. They actually learned some things that were more valuable than a purple ribbon.

You can’t control how things go sometimes. You have to be prepared for the worst. But when it is all said and done, you learn from the experience and you better yourself because of it.

One more thing – I learned that as a 4-H parent, you make sure you have at least two calves per 4-H member registered and ready to go at fair time, so you have extra animals available. That way, you never have to tell your daughters that their bucket calves can’t go to the fair.