This past weekend, we took three Brown Swiss heifers and a Brown Swiss cow to a small fair near us. This is the first time we’ve done a fair since our oldest daughter moved to college (she’s in a coop program with Rockwell Collins during the summer) so I was anxious to see how things would go. I was also anxious as our youngest daughter would be returned from Germany on early Thursday morning after a two week stay with her host family. That anxiety got ramped up a factor of 10 when she messaged us and said they were staying an extra night in Zurich because of “technical difficulties” on the plane. Her scheduled arrival time, midnight on Thursday.
In the meantime, I got two heifers trimmed up, found straw for this event, got the stuff needed for our couple of days (other than food, which my wife takes care of), and waited. She got home and to bed about 1:00 AM, was up at about 9:00 AM, and we were off. She trimmed the last heifer, we got the truck loaded except for a few things. We picked up the cow, got everyone up to the fair, bedded down, and all was good.
Until Saturday arrived. Our daughter started to show signs of fatigue as we walked into the barn at 7:00, not the 6:00 that she’d wanted. If we hadn’t woken her up, she’d have slept through the fair.
She finished fitting the heifers by 9:30 and got changed, but all ready complaining about being tired. The animals hadn’t been worked with much as she was gone a lot, so they were just as anxious as she was starting to be. Brown Swiss are some of the most docile creatures I’ve come across. When we got into this mess, we stalled next to a former student, Janice, who had a Brown Swiss cow aptly named “Tank”. She was ginormous in every sense of the work, yet, when Janice walked her, rarely was there any misbehavior.
Our animals, not so much.
We have a spring calf named Annabelle, and she just loves to run and jump and be a calf. Putting a halter on her is not hard, but leading her in the ring, keep her from dashing around, that was not easy! We have an almost yearling name Gertude, who’s comes from a good bloodline. The problem with her, she was never handled before we got her, and she’s real skittish. She’s gotten much better as we’ve done chore, pet her, and she’s seen our other heifer, Skittles, get petted and talked nice to. But, when you don’t work with your animals, it’s hard to show them as well. Skittles we had last year, and honestly, she acted like our 8th graders this year. One second she loved us, the next second she was dragging us down the barn and out the door! Then, there’s the cow, Ashia. She was shown last year as a “dry” cow, because she hadn’t calved yet, but this year, with her calf down the row a bit (Annabelle) we had to deal with a milking cow. She’s a very gentle soul, but as a heifer, she’s the only one we’ve had that I totally lost my temper. While Brown Swiss are very docile, they are known for locking their knees and not moving. My wife found me in a rage because of something she’d done, and just said, “Why don’t you take a break?”
So, Ashia’s milk production has been between 50 – 60 pounds per day, so the decision was made not to milk her from Friday afternoon to Saturday at noon to expand her udder and show her off a bit. Not the best idea of ideas, because it’s uncomfortable, and she let us know, in her own quiet way, she didn’t like it. She didn’t run like Annabelle or Skittle, moo incessantly like Gertuide, but she wasn’t happy. At the end of the cow show, she click our daughter’s ankle with her hoof, and tossed her head, knocking our daughter over. Now, we know this wasn’t done to harm our daughter (and our daughter’s handled larger animals than her), but it did cause everyone to gasp. To her credit, there were no tears in the ring, she righted herself, dusted off, and keep going.
After that, she went home and slept.
As we brought them back, I reflected on this event, and came up with a few things to relate back to school:
- Your animal has to trust you. Your heifers won’t lead well if they don’t trust you and the feelings they sense in you. Your students, they won’t perform well if they don’t trust you, period. The behaviors go down as the trust grows!
- As silly as it sounds, you have to build relationships early! Ashia, Skittles, and Annabelle, myself, my wife, and our daughter could lead them in the ring with little issue. We’ve worked with them, they know us, and they know we won’t hurt them on purpose. Gertrude, we are still working with her. After this fair, she trusts us so much more than she used to, but she needs to be on a halter every day. First day of school, build the relationships! It’s not a hard idea, but how many times have you seen the “I’m here to scare you” face the first day. No! Let them know you and trust you so you can work with them when it gets tough!
- Work with your animals daily. My daughter just walked by me and I asked, “Which one are you getting and walking around?” Her response: “…………..” They won’t get better if you don’t work with them. Our students, they need your attention, daily. Sometimes, it’s just a good morning, a smile, a “nice job at the concert last night”, something to let them feel noticed.
It was a tough fair for certain, but it’s one day. Sunday, our daughter woke up, smiled, was in a good mood, and seemed to have left the nonsense of the previous day behind her. She’s got two, maybe three shows left this year. We’ll see if she gets out and works with her animals or if it’s a battle. Now’s the time to get better, not in the ring.
Either that, or my wife and I get to play “catch the heifer” again! 🙂
June 20, 2017 at 9:48 am
This is one of the most unique reflections I’ve ever read. I learned a lot from both your experience and your perspective!
June 20, 2017 at 9:59 am
I will take this as a compliment! 🙂 It’s a little different, no doubt, but I find it difficult NOT to relate things back to school, my teaching, and education as a whole! 🙂
June 20, 2017 at 10:12 am
I love how you connect your out-of-the-classroom experiences to the classroom. My husband, now a college art teacher, grew up on a farm. That lifestyle and the lessons learned from it have never left him.
June 20, 2017 at 10:21 am
Not really a farmer here (as our “herd” might imply), but living in the country, there are lessons all around us to be able to teach during our school day! I love that your husband’s able to see that in himself. My hope, my daughters will be the same way! 🙂
June 20, 2017 at 10:23 am
I love how you relate showing livestock to the classroom. Good luck with the rest of the fair season, will your daughter be showing at the state fair?
June 20, 2017 at 11:04 am
I’m sure I’m not your only reader who enjoyed a “slice of life” very different from my own. I really enjoyed learning about your day. You might choose one smaller part and write about it in more detail 🙂 There was a lot packed in there! Like other commenters, I also appreciate the insights into the classroom. Building trust, day after day in small gestures and being present- so true.
June 20, 2017 at 1:43 pm
Yeah, that was kind of a purge! 🙂 Just got going and when I was done, I felt a lot better!
June 20, 2017 at 3:48 pm
I loved reading your post. It reminded me of the 4-H fairs I went to as a child. We didn’t live on a farm, but in the country, with a goat and a big garden. We never showed our animal, but I remember walking through the tent with the cows and being glad I didn’t have to work with one of those. Reading your post makes me even more glad. And so interesting how you connected work with the animals with work with students. Everything does connect.
June 22, 2017 at 1:10 pm
I agree with your last sentence, “everything does connect”. Those connections are when keep me writing, keep me watching what goes on around me, because those are the things I can pull out and use, both with my blog and my classroom! 🙂
June 20, 2017 at 8:12 pm
I love the nature/animal/school connection! You’ve captured many truths here and I feel more educated about cows, by far!
June 22, 2017 at 1:09 pm
Well, I guess I can the blog is a success! They (just like my daughter) can be a hand full, but I’m not sure what will happen when they, the herd, and my daughter (a high school senior this year) move on! 🙂
June 22, 2017 at 6:39 am
Great connection to teaching. It was fun to read about the show and all that goes into it. Enjoy your summer and time off.
June 25, 2017 at 5:41 pm
We will certainly to to enjoy the time away! 🙂
June 24, 2017 at 7:45 pm
Wow! You live a very full (and wholesome) life. Thanks for sharing a unique learning experience with us non-farmers. Like everyone else who commented, I found the comparison about developing trust between your animals and your students very insightful, and fascinating. I admire you for putting yourself out there, on the learning curve, and being able to be self critical and reflective at the same time. Good work, teacher/dad!!!
June 25, 2017 at 5:41 pm
🙂 Self-critical? Yes. Too critical? Probably. My wife asked “what the heck was with that blog” and it was just kind of a mind-dump of stuff. But to me, meaningful stuff! 🙂 Thanks for the comment!