Decisions

One of the things that I hear so often that always gets me going on social media is that us dairy farmers don’t care about our cows, and its all only for the money. That is the number one thing that as soon as I see someone say that in a comment, I know for a fact that I am dealing with someone who actually has no idea what it’s like living this life.

I’ve probably said this a million times before, but if we really were only in it for the profit then why exactly do I find myself constantly curled up in a corner sobbing when things go wrong. As a dairy farmer, some days it feels like my cows are the only ones that understand me, and I’ve even referred to them as my best friends from time to time. And I know even to other dairy farmers that sounds ridiculous, but I wouldn’t say it if it wasn’t true.

I do know that there are things that happen on a dairy farm that most likely look weird to people who don’t live and understand the life, that are all done to help benefit the cow, not the farmer. Most likely that’s why all the stigma around dairy farming started in the first place, one confused person looking and not understanding what was actually happening.

Another important thing that I constantly stress is that not all animals are the same, and animals are not humans. Animals are so much better than humans, but they also have different anatomies, and different ways of having a healthy and happy life. One example would be that most of the time people will take their kids to get a flu shot during flu season. Cows don’t need flu shots, and I don’t think I’ve ever heard of another animal getting one either. But even more important than that, is I’ve seen people compare cows or calves to things like puppies. It doesn’t work to compare two completely different species and say that they are exactly the same. Dogs and cows need completely different things to be healthy and cared for. Would you give your dog cat food?

Where am I going with all of this you may ask? Well as I grow older and I find myself more involved with the goings on on the farm, lately I find things get harder. Just last month I lost a calf after only eight days of life, and there wasn’t anything I could do. And now, I find myself faced with a decision about one of my heifers.

The other day the vet came to the farm to do pregnancy checks, to see who all was officially pregnant or not. Every one of my cows who were supposed to be were, except for one, Charlie.

For constant followers of my blog, this name might seem familiar. I’ve talked about her a few times, especially during the blog posts from my last year at the fair when she was my Reserve Grand Champion Milking Shorthorn, just like her mother. Well recently her mother became unable to have more calves due to prolapse. Prolapse is a weird thing, and sometimes it can kill a cow, but other times it might even fade with time. But if we had bred her again, with her next calf she would have bled out internally. So we were relying on her daughters, Rey and Charlie, to keep bringing Milking Shorthorn calves to our farm.

Well the vet came, and before he even checked her, he said that she was dangerous and that we should get rid of her before she hurts someone. They had to have a halter on her to even be able to do the check. And then after the check the vet said she most likely will not breed ever, which is not good in humans and is definitely not good in dairy cows.

And so now I find myself stuck with a decision. When I was younger, things like this, though this hasn’t happened to me yet, but when bad things happen it was never down to me. It always happened to quickly or it had to happen or the cow would die. And now I’m older, and I make my own decisions. But I don’t want to have to make this one.

I’m in college, and the only thing I want to really be worrying about right now is my finals coming in two weeks. But I find myself having to sit here and write this out on the first day of Thanksgiving break before even trying to work on school stuff, because it’s all I can think about. And I don’t want to have to be thinking about it.

If dairy farmers were only in it for the profit, this decision would be a no brainer. She’s never going to give milk, so out the door she goes. Except that’s not how any of this works. Because we do care, we care a whole awful lot. And I know the vet said she was dangerous, and that she has the possibility of hurting someone. And I know we’re already struggling, just because dairy farms don’t bring in that much money in the first place, and we have more medical bills and stuff now because of what happened to my dad a few months ago. I know what the decision will most likely be, and will honestly probably have to be. But I don’t want to have to face it, and I don’t want to have to do it. Because I am a dairy farmer, and like it or not, or understand it or me or not, I and every other farmer like me, we care about our cows.

Shame on you

You would think by now I would learn not to comment on posts on Facebook where people are just going to respond and say what I do for a living is terrible, but it seems I haven’t learned. Well today someone said shame on you to me for doing nothing but loving and treating my cows right. And for some reason it’s sticking with me. Because I am not and never will be ashamed of what I do. Nothing will ever convince me the last seven years of my life were wrong and shameful. But if love is shameful then fine, shame on me. If meeting my first cow and having an instant connection so much that she has been my best friend for the last seven years is shameful, then fine, shame on me. If sitting next to a dying nine month old cow that should still have been alive today except for the accident that no one could control, at fourteen years old, and realizing that I was never going to see her again after that night, and therefore having to grow up and become an adult at fourteen years old is shameful, then yeah shame on me. If being told I’m much more mature than any other kid my age, and having the only reason for it being because I learned to be responsible and take care of something other than myself because I had my cows is shameful, then fine shame on me. If having my first panic attack of my life because I thought one of my cows was going to run into the road is shameful, then yup shame on me. If seeing a calf be born dead and see the mother get worse and worse and then get better a bit only to get worse again and then we lose her, and because of this watching and needing updates and watching and checking on my cows every single time they’re pregnant because I can’t let it happen again is shameful, then shame on me. If having one of my cows do a backflip and fall over her head and not be able to breathe until I know whether or not she’s going to be ok, and then going to hide and cry in the bathroom in both relief and horror after what just happened is shameful, then shame on me. If having a heifer slip and fall on my ankle and almost break it, if not breaking it a little and going back into the barn after knowing I could walk on it and feeding the heifers because they needed it and it was time to feed them and never actually getting it checked out, resulting in me walking with a heavier foot fall and having my ankle hurt every time it’s humid, but not really caring because I’m used to it now is shameful, then shame on me. If losing a calf after only nine days, or after one day and having to go somewhere and pretend like everything is normal when it’s really not but it’s a feeling that can’t be put into words is shameful then shame on me. If losing a cow after five and a half years and months later still walking into the barn and feeling like there’s a hole in the world where she should be is shameful, then shame on me. If time and time again I found myself worrying about one or another of my cows for a different reason or another no matter what the results end up being is shameful, then shame on me. If you’ve never felt the love of a cow, if you’ve never had the experience of sitting down next to a cow and having them turn and their head and fall asleep on you, with both of you feeling absolutely safe and at peace and can sit there for hours, then you don’t know what you’re missing. If anything mentioned above seems shameful to you, then you will not understand ever and I’m sorry for you. You may say shame on me, but I will never be ashamed to love a cow.

A Letter to My Ex Ag Teacher and FFA Advisor

Well I haven’t blogged in a while but so much has been happening lately that I really needed to take the time to write out how I feel and it had to do with agriculture so I got back on to my blog today. Because I needed to write out a letter. I was reminded this morning that being a writer it helps to write out my feelings, so that’s what I’m trying to do here, and maybe it’ll help me, at least a little bit I hope.

This is a letter to you. The one who I thought I could always count on. I don’t know if there’s even a chance you’ll ever see this, and I don’t really know if it matters whether or not you do. Because this is mostly for me.

I’d been hearing the whole year last year about how bad my old high school was getting. I’d seen it happening a little bit while I was still there, but through everything I’d seen and heard I always thought it would be okay because you would still be there. I always thought “it’ll be okay because no matter what the ag program and FFA will always be there.” And then my life was thrown sideways three days ago.

When it happened a few years ago I don’t think I was all that surprised. I don’t know if it’s just been long enough to have it been fully processed or if it was just something that was a bit more expected with the last time, but this time I don’t know how to process. The man I knew that had been my teacher, that I’ve known for over 75% of my life, someone who I’d looked at as almost like an uncle to me because all of my uncles live so far away, that man would never have done what you’ve been arrested for. Ugh I can’t even say it. I haven’t said it out loud, and I can’t even write it out either.

Travel back with me to my last day of senior year. I already knew when I walked in that I was going to be emotional that day, but it didn’t start until I walked out of that ag room for the last time. That ag room that had always been the one room I thought of as a sanctuary when I was having bad days.

I remember you always saying that year that you felt old or nostalgic that we were graduating that year, and how proud you were because we were the first class you’d ever had at that school. Maybe that’s when things went downhill for you, after we left, I don’t know.

I remember when you first took over the ag program. Before that I had tried to be in FFA and take ag classes before but they didn’t take for me then. I remember being so excited when you took it all over, and I remember thinking that maybe I could try it again. And that was a great decision at the time.

I learned so much from you, more than I can possibly put into words. I learned to public speak, to travel farther from home than I’d ever done before. There are so many adventures and lessons learned from FFA and you that it makes this ten times harder than if I hadn’t, if I had just been a kid in the school.

At first I was shocked, and in denial. I thought, there was no way that this is true, there’s got to be another explanation. Then the sobbing came. And then the anger. I took down my Greenhand degree that night from where it’s been hanging since I got it. I had been meaning to take it down for a while since my cat began jumping up on the place where it was and it got all ripped up, but I hadn’t. But that night I looked and I couldn’t even sit in the room when I could see your name right there in plain sight. So I took it down, and hid it in a drawer.

Then the next day my mom, my sister, and I went to see the movie Unbroken: Path to Redemption. I’d known the story of Louis Zamperini for years, but I think God knew that this was going to happen, and that I would need to see that movie yesterday. As I sat there and watched Zamperini forgive all of his captors that had tortured him for years, even the worst one, I knew that’s what I needed to do to.

And so yesterday I forgave you. Or at least I thought I had. I forgave what you made me feel, and it helped me to feel a bit less sick, and a little bit less like I might throw up. But then today I went to church where everyone was still talking about it, and I thought about your family, and what this has got to be doing to them. I thought about all of the kids in FFA right now, the boys I used to call my FFA brothers and sisters that were still there and had to worry about what came next. I thought about the Sherman FFA and how much we’d all done together and how bad they also feel.

So the tears came again. I went for a walk around the block during Sunday School to try and clear my head. But when I came back I don’t think it worked at all. Because the whole thing just hurts. Any time I thought of someone looking at child pornography or pedophilia it was always something from the news or television shows, or the big cities. Always one of those things that could never happen to me, could never actually affect my life. Until it was.

There’s a newer musical that came out about a year ago called Dear Evan Hansen, I know you are into musicals, heck we’ve been in some together, so maybe you know what I’m talking about, but maybe not. There’s a song in there called Requiem that the sister sings in the musical after her brother dies of an overdose on drugs. There’s a line in there that says “so don’t tell me that I didn’t have it right. Don’t tell me that it wasn’t black and white. After all you’ve put me through, don’t say it wasn’t true, that you were not the monster, that I knew…”

That part of the song is getting to me on so many levels at the moment, mainly because if you switch some words around it is almost exactly how I feel about this situation, and as I sit and write this I think I finally realized it. If you switch the words to “After all that we’ve been through, don’t say it wasn’t true, and that you were not a monster… that I knew.” I used to always think of pedophiles as monsters. But the man that I knew was not a monster, as far as I knew. I believe that it didn’t start until after I left, until I’d only seen you a few times over the year. And those few times I thought something was different, but at the time I didn’t notice, maybe because the last time I saw you I was in the middle of the fair and half asleep 24/7.

There are a few times I even find myself thinking how dare he?! How dare he do that to all of us?! But then I feel bad about that, like I shouldn’t feel that way, like I don’t have the right. But no matter what I do I can’t help feeling a little bit mad. And I can’t help but think that I hope you feel at least a little guilty, I hope you know what you did is wrong. And I hope that you get help, because you need it.

I may never see you again, and you may never read this, but I wrote this for me. And if you do see this, the one thing I want you to take away is that I forgive you. Maybe not completely yet, but I forgave you yesterday, and I will continue to every day for as long as it takes until I finally don’t feel sick anymore, and till I think I can finally tell someone about it without crying. And I don’t know what the future will bring, but I can only hope that somehow the Clymer FFA continues, that someone takes it over. I can only hope that you get the help you need, and that when you get your sentence, and when you get out of jail that you know that it’s terrible and you won’t even think about doing it again. I hope that your family can forgive you, and that the community can too. And I need you to know no matter how bad I feel I won’t let it ruin the memories. FFA was one of the only things I could hold onto during those years, and I refuse to look back on all those memories now and let this ruin it. Friday night I went to put on my pajamas and almost couldn’t because it was my FFA shirt from State Convention. That was when I decided something changed since then, and I’m not going to let this change the good times, and the good memories. Because those were some of the best days of my life, and I refuse to look back on them without anything but happiness, despite what you’ve done. But I’m praying for all of us to get through this, for you to get the help you need, for everyone to make it through this, and for everyone to find a way to forgive you. Because I’ve already tried, and slowly I think I’ve began to forgive you. And I hope you know how to forgive yourself, and that this one bad decision doesn’t ruin what has previously been the wonderful life you’ve led as far as I know. And I hope that you can make it back to the man you were before, the one that I knew.

Sincerely, me.