During the last two weeks, four babies were born next door — at least four that I could see. I think there may be more. Calving season is here, and those wobbly-legged calves are coming into the world right here in the dead of winter. Sometimes we hear the cow delivering her calf as she bellows in the night; the next morning, I am relieved to see that all went well.
One of the calves is already frisking about the field, teasing other cows and flicking her tail. One year several of them played what appeared to be a game of tag, chasing each other, standing still, and then racing around again. I will create another version of a well-known adage: Time spent watching cows is never wasted. Even those cows who stand chewing their cud are worth our attention as most of us could use a little standing still ourselves.
In my past bovine observations, I felt uneasy about the calving season timing. The cows dropping their calves in severely cold weather out in an open field made me worry for the calves. One morning when I saw a calf in the field, the temperature was 12 degrees! This seemed harsh, but a farmer friend from back home, an N.C. State graduate, put my concerns to rest.
He explained that calves are born with brown adipose tissue, a type of fat that metabolizes at a higher rate, generating much more heat in an animal than regular fat deposits. Calves are not born with lots of fat, but that special fat they do possess enables them to stay warm in freezing temperatures. The cows also have colostrum in their milk that helps with the warmth factor. So, my friend gave me great relief with that information. I wish someone had an easy answer for me in my human baby concerns that come to mind as I watch the calves.
Besides their playful nature, in many ways calves behave like human offspring. I have often seen a little child sidle up to a woman he mistakes for his mother, leaning in to hold on to a skirt or pants leg. Realizing the mistake, the child will run back to his mother in great embarrassment. I am telling you the truth — I saw a calf do that yesterday. She was standing alone with several cows dotted about the field, and she walked over to the closest one. Upon sticking her nose under the cow’s belly, the calf bolted and ran to her mother. I laughed, remembering my own little kids mistaking another mom for me.
Human babies, who are “fearfully and wonderfully made,” also have a higher presence of brown adipose tissue in their newborn bodies than older children and adults. I have marveled many times at the stories of newborns left for dead in trashcans outside or in cold bathroom stalls, and wondered how, with human biology, an infant could possibly survive being left for dead. God gave babies at least a fighting chance with that heat-generating fat.
Of course, human lives are more important to me than calves who will eventually end up on someone’s dinner table. I wish I knew that all the mothers in Caldwell County would take care of their babies as well as the cows out here in the field manage theirs. The awful truth is that every year little children by the hundreds are born into adverse conditions in our area and suffer greatly, especially those in homes plagued by the addictions of parents.
One evening when we sat eating our soup for supper in a warm house, I thought of all the kids without any supper, those having to hide from a parent, those trying to take care of younger siblings with parents passed out in another room. I longed for a magic carpet to go sweep them all up and feed them and give them hope.
I pray every day for these children. I give where it will make a difference. I want to do more. The calves next door will be fine, but I cannot say as much for the lost children that we all know are out there.