My husband always says, “If you’ve got live stock, you’ve got dead stock.” That particular spring we had a tragic incident of a cow that died while giving birth. The thing was, on top of having to deal with the trauma of the scary dead stock truck coming, there was still a little matter of a newborn calf to contend with. In a previous life I had worked a vet office for almost a decade, and I knew that there was virtually no chance of us hand raising the little guy. I tried to break it to the kids, who at that time were about 6, 8 and 10. The little calf, while cute as heck, had very little chance of survival, unless we found him a surrogate mother, which seemed unlikely within our usual social circles.
My 10 year old son was totally accepting and matter of fact about the calf’s impending demise. In true male form, if it wasn’t going to affect him in a negative way, he was fine with it. (This is the same boy who, when he thought his little friend Zach who was over for a playdate had been completely swallowed up and met his end in the “quicksand” near our pond, stated simply “Well, guess I’ve got no more friend to play with.”) His sisters however, are caring nurturers (just like their mom), and they were staunch in their determination to save the little orphan. My husband humoured them by going to the Co-op and buying a big bottle with a nipple on it, (which for some reason my son found hilarious) and something called “calf starter”, which sounded appropriate.
I came home from work the next night and here was this calf (now named “Austin” – as in Powers) casually lounging, tied to the tree in our front yard. The girls were taking turns mixing up his formula, and feeding it to him in his big giant bottle. I was very surprised to see that he was looking quite perky, and certainly seemed to be loving all the fussing and petting he was getting. He really gave that bottle a workout over the next few days – the nipple got longer (and funnier) every day.
The girls continued their TLC, and Austin never looked back. He grew stronger every day. The only issue that he developed was an identity crisis. He had no idea he was a cow. He hung around the house and the yard, like the dog and the cats. In fact, if you threw the Frisbee for the dog, he would run alongside the dog to get it. If he arrived at the Frisbee first, he had no idea what to do with it — but I think he may have derived satisfaction from humiliating Riley by making him come in second to a cow in a footrace . It was a classic case of bullying. (Sorry ... couldn’t resist)
Once it became evident that Austin may in fact survive, we attempted to initiate him into the herd of cows. He trailed along behind us wherever we went, so we would walk out to the field where the cows and their calves were, and we would stand there quietly and wait until he became interested in grazing alongside them. Then we would sneakily tiptoe away and then run toward the house. Without fail, he would race past us on his way back to the house with a terrified look on his face that seemed to say “HOLY CRAP – WAIT UP YOU GUYS – you almost left me out there with those COWS!!”
Sometimes my husband would be out barbequing steaks, and the dog always hung around the BBQ, but now Austin joined too and it was super awkward. We always felt the need to apologize, and assure him that these delectable cuts on our plate were no relation to him …or that they “had it coming”, or that this one “ was quite sick anyway and we just had to put it out of its misery .” He seemed unconvinced.
I knew things were completely out of hand one day though, when I was out on the lawn talking to the kids, with the dog and calf sprawled nearby. The phone rang, and I ran into the house to get it. Austin liked to chase anything that ran…. and I made the mistake of leaving the door open behind me. I grabbed the phone, and then I heard the distinctive sound of the pitter patter of hooves on my kitchen floor. Who knew that cows could run up steps? I’m sure that the insurance lady on the phone thought I’d lost it. I screamed, and then muttered something incoherent about having to call her back because I had to get the “stupid cow” out of my house . (Probably thought I was just having a Coronation Street style brawl with a crazy female acquaintance.)
But happily, one day out of the blue, Austin became a petty thief, and our days of having to bottle feed him ended. For no apparent reason, he simply one day decided to join the rest of the bovines out in the field. He strolled out, ducked underneath the electric fence, like he’d been doing it his whole life. He waited in the shadows until one of the calves was nursing beside its mother, and then he casually walked up behind her and without so much as a “how do you do” he proceeded to start nursing on her other teat from behind, sticking his head between her back legs. She couldn’t really kick him away because if she did she would kick away her own baby too.
It was a most successful venture. So began his life of crime as a milk stealer. He wasn’t particular about which cow-mom he stole milk from, whoever was handy. He became part of the “cool calf” gang in the field, and forgot about his brief stint as a Golden Retriever wannabe. He was lucky he had little calf friends with MILMs – or “Mom’s I’d like to Milk”, and he grew fat and strong, and like most adolescents, forgot all the civilized manners we taught him and began acting like he’d been born in a barn.