I Saw a Cow Birth This Morning

I’ve been reading old journals. I’ve never read them before. I just finished them and then tucked them away. At the time I wrote this entry, I was 21 years old. A senior at Ohio University doing an independent study with one of the VisCom (visual communications) professors. I’d shoot something, she’d look at it and tell me it sucked and I’d try again.

This experience was a memorable one and I’m glad I wrote about it.

I Saw A Cow Birth This Morning. Feb. 30, 1998

Last Sunday, I drove around looking for picture story ideas. I was way up Rte 550 when I saw a man in a field with his cows. I pulled over. It turns out, this man and his wife live in Marietta 45 minutes away. He’s retired and used to own a store. If he told me why he ended up with the cattle I don’t remember.

All the cows were expecting calves. I knew that could be interesting! I asked if they would mind my taking some pictures. Though they, specifically Mrs. R, seemed embarrassed of the field which was so muddy from all the rain, they said no problem.

Mr. R. showed me around the farm and told me about Little Joe, a cat who he nursed with a bottle for three days because his mom rejected him. At the end of my short visit, I asked if I could come back sometime. They said sure.

The following Wednesday I called to ask if I could come back out and when would be a good time? The wife said “I’ll tell you what, will call you if anything happens, is that fair enough?”

I told her, “That’s fine!“

On Thursday I thought They’re never going to call me. So, I called and asked for Mr. R. He told me I might catch him in the morning if I come out. He wasn’t anxious to tell me when he’d be there for sure. It was clear that they weren’t comfortable with me taking pictures, but it seemed to be simply because they were embarrassed with the muddy field which they had no control over. I’m not trying to trivialize it, but unless they told me that they didn’t want me taking pictures, I was going to take pictures!

I got up at 6 on Friday morning and drove over. Nothing was happening. I stayed for only 45 minutes, photographing him giving hay to the cows. So I was disappointed, but wanted to come back the next morning. He said that was OK but doubted I could get up so early two days in a row.

Not so fast, pal! I arrived this morning early. He was hopping into his truck, “I can’t get the calf out of the cow“ he was leaving to get help.

I sat in the car waiting for him to return and wondered if the birth of a calf would ever touch someone. Affect their life in someway. This experience did affect me, but it wasn’t a happy ending. Mr. R returned with his friend and we all went into the barn. They got the calf out with some struggle. It was dead. Mr. R was convinced it was responsive. He rubbed it, pushed it around. He dragged it to the mom so she would lick at it and maybe stimulate it.

“What do you s’pose we do?” He asked his friend, “maybe I should give it a shot of vitamins? I could give it mouth to mouth.” He suggested “except I don’t know how.”

I told him I’d seen it on TV and explained what I’d saw. Mr. R was willing to try anything. He wrapped his mouth over its nose (not before stuffing its tongue back into its mouth) and gave a puff of air. He tried a couple times with no luck. He went to get a shot of vitamins but by the time he got back his friend said not to bother, “his mom even knows he’s dead.“

So, that was that. I’ve never seen a calf born. It was sad for my first time. Mr. R was upset, “It’s not the money“ he said “I don’t give a shit about that. It’s just that she carried him for nine months and now this”.

He drove his daughter’s house nearby to call his wife. When he came back he said “I think we’re gonna have to wrap it up, Cydney. My wife is really upset that I even let you into the barn” She felt (the barn) was in too terrible condition for company. “I hope you understand. I think I’ve had enough upset for today. I have to go bury the calf now. I have to, it’s just a part of me.”

I told him it was a good part. And that I was very impressed with his valiant effort. Nature was against him. “There were elements out of your control” I reassured him. He wanted to be alone, that was clear. I told him I understood and thanked him.

He had let me borrow some boots so I went to the car to change out of them. I thought he’d gone back to work, but in no time he was at the car. As he talked more about what happened, it seemed to me that he was trying to reassure himself that he’d done everything he could’ve. I was glad that he came to talk because I could reassure him. I think he felt bad turning me away. I was upset too, because I felt intrusive. But as we talked, I think we both felt a bit better; I felt a little less intrusive, and maybe I helped him feel less guilty. Maybe he was afraid I blame him.

Before I left, he reiterated that it wasn’t the money. “I’m not a cow man” he said “I owned a store. I just love animals. I nursed four out of five bunnies back to life with an eyedropper years ago. Money isn’t everything.”

He told me again that he hoped I understood and that he hoped I’d get a good grade.

I reassured him that I understood, and that, like the money, the grade isn’t everything.

(And because I am meticulous about archiving things, I was able to find these images, which were in slide form, held in a sleeve in a three-ring binder, in a box, in a closet. (There was a shot of Mr. R trying to resuscitate the calf, but I’ll spare you it). As for my grade, I don’t know what I got, but according to a journal entry a few days later my prof took one look and said with her usual blunt nature “These are gross. No one’s gonna wanna look at these.”)

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