Six years ago my son came to his mother and me and said, “I want a cow.” Thinking that this was the ramblings of a four-year-old little boy I responded, “Ok son, a cow is very expensive and a lot of work. Can you handle it?” Of course, to no surprise his response was along the lines of, “Dad, I am a big boy, of course, I can take care of it.” “Fine son,” I replied, “You save your money and then we will talk.”
Lesson 1 – Don’t underestimate the power of a dream
I thought that would be the end of it. But much to our surprise almost a year later my little boy comes into our bedroom one day and up-ends his piggy bank. He had saved for the entire year and had a decent sum of money. I inquired, “What’s all this son?” His response, “This is my cow money you told me to save.” Now you must understand the last his mother and I had heard about the “I want a cow,” was when we thought we shut him down with, “Show me the money.”
Lesson 2 – Don’t promise something if you aren’t willing to follow through.
Now I was in a bit of a pickle. I live on a small farm in Western North Carolina and while my grandfather had some cattle it had been many years ago. Luckily at that time we still had a horse so the pasture wasn’t too much of an issue (or so we thought).
Once my son showed me the money the “I want a cow,” request became consistent. What kind of lesson would I be teaching if I didn’t follow through? My grandfather used to say, “A man is only as good as his word.”
Lesson 3 – There are always hidden costs
I was selling a man a truck and we were talking about what he did for a living. It turns out that he was a dairy farmer. Wow, what are the chances? (Pretty good if you have my luck it turns out) So I casually mention to him that my son has this dream of owning a cow. “Easy enough,” he says, “We have calves very regularly and any that are boys are really no use to us.” (For those of you who haven’t ever given it much thought, on a cattle farm they only really keep one bull and he has the arduous job of making sure that all the lady cows have babies.) So it turns out that you can purchase a three-day-old male cow for substantially less than originally anticipated. It didn’t hurt that the man’s father was my 2-year-old son’s Sunday School teacher.
So when I learned that the purchase of the steer was going to be a minimal investment, I didn’t have the heart to take all of my son’s hard earned money and facilitated the purchase. He has since grown to about 1800 lbs, and we had to have him fixed so he would be calmer.
The hidden costs associated with our new steer, Fred:
• Dry milk – with no momma cow to feed Fred it was our responsibility to get a giant baby bottle and mix up milk multiple times a day. (This started at about 5 am—sub lesson—kids, and dads, don’t like having to go out in the cold at 5 am to feed their cow. However, this is a lesson in responsibility so, up we got seven days a week) Total milk costs approximately $400. (Not to mention every year the grain and cracked corn at approximately $25 / month)
• Fencing – Now Fred is 1800 lbs. He was 90 lbs when we got him. Our fencing design was not one that would hold in a small calf as we learned within the first 5 minutes of having him at the house (another sub lesson—while ungainly, small calves are FAST and while 90 lbs doesn’t sound like much, tell that to my aching back after carrying a struggling 90 lbs in my arms for a 1/4 mile) Total fencing cost: $1000.
• Vet costs – Our vet is awesome. She makes house calls. (It would be hard to lug the steer in my little car to an office) Worming, shots, hooves, wellness checks, etc., etc., etc. I don’t even know what the total of vet costs have been.
Lesson 4 – The grass may be greener on the other side…Or is it?
Over the last five years of being the proud owner of Fred, we have learned that we should have named him Houdini. Every spring, without fail, Fred determines that the grass outside the pasture must have better flavor. He pushes the fence to find a weak spot and out he comes.
The only good thing about having hand-raised him is that usually, he will come home if we call his name and bang on the food bins. That is on the journeys when we catch him soon enough. On a number of occasions, I have been at work and neighbors will call with, “Your cow’s out again.” The worst was twice in the same afternoon. What happens when an 1800 lb puppy dog with horns decides that he doesn’t want to come home? Well, some choice words are sometimes uttered, a lot of coaxing, pulling and begging to occur. Nothing will swallow your pride faster than telling something as large as Fred to come on and he flat out refuses. I don’t care how strong you are, the steer is stronger.
So yes the grass may be greener on the other side, but on that side lurk dangers that you may not see. Cars and neighbors who don’t take kindly to their flower beds being walked through and marked with cow pies, if not completely eaten, just to name a few.
I have realized that our perspective greatly influences what we think is on the other side of the fence. Once we get there the unknowns rear their ugly heads.
Lesson 5 – Do it for love
As aggravating and troublesome as it is for me to be the proud “Dad” to a cow, I know that it brings my son joy to have his cow run up to the fence to get his nose rubbed. And it makes for a great conversation at networking events. Most importantly is that through the years it has instilled pride and a sense of responsibility in my children, as we have added to the menagerie of animals at our home. My kids love their cow, donkey, dog, two cats, and turtle. I love my kids. So, even when I am walking the cow home from another outing in the pouring rain, ripping my hands on the barbed wire as I repair the fence and getting hit in the shoulder by the cow’s horns as he inspects my work; even when I am thinking, “Hamburger sounds like a great option,” I persevere. I persevere out of love.