Today, all ready at 7:45 in the morning, has been a truly awful day.
Let me back up to March of last year, when this little snow white calf showed up at our little farmette. We’ve been gradually working our way into 4-H with chickens and various non-livestock types of activities, but this would be the beginning of cows. Each of my two daughters was going to get a calf, and show them as bucket bottle calves. Kaiser, was a male, so we had to make a decision as to what to do. We didn’t know if there’d be other heifers coming, but the next calf was for the other daughter, so we bought Kaiser and he became part of our family. My youngest daughter loved him to pieces, but after the fair, he hit a massive growth spurt, and my daughter found it hard to lead him the way that would be expected at a show. She’d hop into the pasture and he’d come sauntering over and they’d scratch on each other, quite a sight to see this 1,100 pound animal with my 5 foot nothing daughter! However, we talked and discussed what his station in life would be: he’d be around the follow year’s fair, then he’d go to the locker, because a steer is just not something to keep around.
Fast forward to about a month ago, and the farmer who sold him to us came over one day just to talk and see the cows. He had a look at Kaiser’s feet and went “ohhhhh!” Later that day, he came back to tell us that Kaiser had a genetic deformity where as he grows, his front two legs begin to twist inward, to the point where if we continued to feed him out, the weight might buckle his legs. He wasn’t going to be shown at the fair, but we’d planned on keeping him around until the end of July. Last weeks heat wave really was hard on him, so we started talking about taking him to the locker. Tears and crying, but again, we knew this would come sooner or later. So, today, this morning, Kaiser went to the locker. My wife and I loaded him up early, and I took him down. My daughter couldn’t say good bye to him last night, crying herself to sleep, and I was a mess driving home with an empty trailer.
Now, you farmer types who are reading this may be rolling your eyes at this point, but like I said, this animal wasn’t just a steer, he was part of us. We watched him grow into his legs, frolick and play with the other heifer that showed up at our place last April. The two of them played king of the mountain on a little rise in our pasture, and when we opened up another section, they ran together kicking their hooves up like teenagers might with the keys to the car. Wynnie, that first heifer, was calling out of Kaiser when I got home, which made things that much more personal.
Now, why tell you all this? Because it IS personal, it’s part of our own DNA to either take things and make them just that, things, or add that human touch. Most who read this are teachers, and we have been hammered with the “data data data” chant. I’ll be quite honest, my teaching is about relationships, about knowing what makes kids tick, not all about data. Data is one tool I have, but I’ve noticed that our profession as a whole is beginning to slide down that slippery slope, seeing the numbers, not the faces. If that should ever happen to me, take me out back and put me down, because I don’t ever, EVER, want to teach not seeing my students for who they are, seeing their stories unfold, and trying to figure out ways of keeping those stories going in a positive direction.
Kaiser has a story, and it will live on with us forever. When our heifers leave (we show brown swiss, so they’ll head back to the dairy) they will have stories too, who will be told and retold as our family gets older. Keep those students, their stories, and keep your humanity, that part of us that makes us great teachers. If we lose that, well, I’d rather not think of the consequences.