When You Grow Up on a Farm, Sometimes Cows Are the Teachers

School is in session on the family farm, and the animals lead the lessons.

Sometimes-the-Cows-are-the-TeachersCountry Woman MagazineGrowing up on a dairy farm was not always as blissful and beautiful as people might picture. But it was emotional and educational, and made me who I am today. I loved it.

Some of that education resulted from raising cows. During my childhood, there were special cows who taught me important life lessons. Memories of them bring a smile to my face and a tear to my eye.

It all started with Thunder, the first cow I recall bonding with. She was a big white Holstein who stood in the first stall in our barn. There was a gate next to her stall, and when I was about 4 years old, I used to climb up to brush her and talk to her while my parents did the milking. I spent hours brushing that cow. She was truly my friend, and I shared with her all my secrets and stories.

Then one day my parents told me it was time for Thunder to go to market. I didn’t understand at the time what that meant; I just knew Thunder was leaving, and I was devastated. I went on the trailer to give her one last hug. With tears rolling down my face, I watched as my pal rolled out of the driveway.

I learned from Thunder that cows are not pets. Though we may love them, their purpose is to provide food. When they can no longer give milk, they are meant to supply beef—a noble purpose.

Thunder taught me selflessness and nobility.

Sometimes-the-Cows-are-the-TeachersCountry Woman MagazineMy first Jersey, Molly, was the next cow to teach me a valuable lesson. She was the only Jersey on our farm, and she had a huge personality. She had a hankering for Grandma’s market tomatoes and could smell an open gate across the barnyard, a skill she would take advantage of any chance she got.

Despite her mischievous side, I showed Molly for six years at the county fair. We always did well, thanks to the special bond between us that the judges could see. When Molly was 4 years old, we had an exceptional year, and she was selected as the reserve grand champion Jersey of the 4-H show. With that huge shiny red trophy, I thought we were invincible. I was sure Molly was the best cow on the whole fairgrounds.

In the open show a couple days later, we were handed the mustard-colored ribbon of fourth place. My first instinct was to blame the judge, who clearly didn’t know what he was doing. After watching me pout for a while, my mother chatted with me about sportsmanship and modesty. Molly was a great cow, but she wasn’t the “best” that day, and that was OK.

Molly taught me to be humble.

When I was 10, my father gave me a 6-year-old cow to show. Her name was Ginger, and she was a big beautiful black cow. She was set in her ways and really didn’t want a little kid dragging her around a show ring. I worked hard that summer, leading Ginger up and down our long driveway, sweating and panting with the effort. To no avail—the first year Ginger needed to be pushed around the whole ring. I was embarrassed, frustrated and ready to give up on her. But I kept working with her, and eventually that stubborn old cow gave in and decided she enjoyed the show ring. We went on for many years, even winning showmanship several times. Through Ginger, I learned that hard work and dedication pay off, and those achievements we work for the hardest yield the sweetest rewards.

Ginger taught me work ethic and dedication.

Since then, more cows have impacted my life, offering lessons through the bonds we forged. I hope someday my own son can tell a similar story from a life spent with animals on the family farm.

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Originally Published in Country Woman