My husband sang a solo in church tonight. For a job well done, I told him I'd treat him to Sonic on the way home.
And me too.
But, you know, mostly him.
For singing and all.
Just as we got to the car, the phone rang. It was one of the dairy employees. A heifer was giving birth, and the calf was coming out all catywompus. The employee couldn't get to the calf to help straighten it out because the heifer wouldn't stand. There was no room. (Chris here. When a heifer is laying down and having a calf that is presenting incorrectly, everything is squished together and there is no room to move the calf into the correct position. You have to get her to stand somehow. Or they both die.) He questioned what else he could do.
Chris told the young man he'd be there as soon as he could, and while I shrieked that we didn't need ice cream anymore and that he should GO GO GO, he still managed to whiz through the McDonalds drive-thru and scarf down a McFlurry while speeding home to change into work clothes.
While we drove, another dairy employee texted. "We need you to show us how to do this."
A few minutes later, "Should we hoist her up? How do we get her to stand?"
It was 9:00 p.m. by now. Our gravel roads were dark as Chris sped toward the dairy. He was quiet, and I could see the scenarios for this difficult birth running through his mind.
We pulled up to bedded pack, a pen layered thick with straw. The heifer was up by now, hoisted gently so that Chris could get to her calf. Three employees were gathered around her, long-sleeve shirts and vests, jeans and muck boots, ready to do what they could to assist but unsure of how to proceed.
I got out of the truck and watched Chris pull his shoulder-length glove on.
The heifer was clearly in pain; I imagine any mother can commiserate. Her baby wasn't coming out the way it was supposed to, and she had been laboring long enough to know something wasn't right.
Her bellows and groans were deep. Her stomach tightened and untightened with contractions. If anything reminds you of the curse of Genesis 3, it's watching an animal that weighs well over a thousand pounds moan in the pangs of childbirth.
The three men gathered around Chris, arms extended, ready to jump in when or if he needed them to help.
I watched him work, straightening the calf out so that it could be delivered in a way that wouldn't hurt the mother any more than she already was.
The calf came out, bloody and wet, and one of the men immediately started rubbing him down to help get him breathing.
Another moved to assist the mother while Chris went to grab some painkillers (Chris here. And antibiotics. Because I care enough about my animals to give them antibiotics in special circumstances. Usually having a calf doesn't require antibiotics. But when I have to stick my entire arm and shoulder into her vagina in an effort to get the calf presenting correctly, I'm going to give the poor girl some antibiotics. And as always, when cows get antibiotics, their milk gets dumped for a week or two until all the antibiotics are out of her system and the milk test shows that she's clean.) to take the edge off of what had undoubtedly been a tremendously painful birth.
It hit me then as I watched these four grown men form a circle around one mama Holstein, and I got a little teary, proud to be the wife of a dairyman and thankful to be the daughter of a pork producer.
I know that if an animal rights group had taken a picture right then, the caption would have been very different. "Dairy employee wrenches defenseless calf from wailing mother," it would have said.
But I saw something very different. It was late. All four men were tired. It was dark outside. Undoubtedly they would rather have been home with their families.
But there they were, out of bed, out in the cold, out in the middle of the night to help this little mama bring her first calf into the world. They were all smiling when it was over, relieved but mostly happy that the calf was alive and that the heifer was on her feet.
Chris jumped back in the pickup with a smile on his face. "Calf's alive. Mama's up. It's a good night," he said.
The other three men dispersed soon too, one to go back to hauling manure in the dark, another to milk, and one home to bed.
Two will be up and at the dairy again in eight hours. Two more will be there soon after.
Farming isn't easy. It isn't pretty. It isn't glamorous.
But it is immensely rewarding . . . even when you're just the wife . . . on the outside looking in.