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Testing the limits of farm and family fences

Erica Louder for Progressive Forage Published on 29 November 2018
child standing on four-wheeler

We have a yearling heifer that always finds the hole in the fence. As a calf, she would snuggle next to the fence for a sunny nap and wake up on the other side. She would bellow and holler at her mama, who would in turn bellow and holler at us.

We would plop her back over the fence, and she would scamper to her mama and greedily nurse, all the while eying her incompetent owners. She was trouble from the beginning. Born in the middle of a snowstorm and found by pure, dumb luck, she didn’t immediately take to life. For the first few days, we had to help her along, holding her mouth to the teat and hoping she’d catch on.

She did catch on and then promptly passed her peers. At weaning, she outperformed the other heifer calves by a good 30 pounds. Today, she is well-built and pretty, with a pedigree to match. She makes the perfect replacement heifer, except for one blinding flaw. She has never seen a fence that she can’t cross. She does it purely for pleasure; I am sure of it. When she was kept in the corrals near the house, I would see her walking through the yard, stopping occasionally to nibble the grass or bite at a tree limb. If we didn’t see her potential, I’d be tempted to cut our losses.

Come to think of it, I have a daughter kind of like that. Not that I would actually consider selling her. … Her dad won’t let me. Her name is Clara. She is rebellious, sweet, cantankerous, needy, clingy, independent, loud, messy, mean and each in contradictory and alternating measures. She is also not quite 3 years old. I can only hope she outgrows the worst of these characteristics and holds on to the best. It’s the same dream we have for our pretty little heifer.

Fortunately, our farm is a good place to raise a kid like Clara. There is room to roam, lots of fresh air, cows to feed and a pony to ride. In the afternoons when I am ready to throw her out the window, my husband protects his beloved daughter and takes her out to do the chores.

There have been many naps in the skid steer, on the floor of a dirty pickup and riding double in the saddle of a horse. Once Clara spent the entire day at the livestock auction with her dad. After the friendly waitresses stuffed her full of French fries and root beer, she felt a little sleepy. Refusing to be held, she curled up into a little ball on the hard wooden seats and promptly fell asleep. The cattle buyers took pity on the toe-headed little girl with chubby cheeks. Seeing this sweet and sassy bundle asleep on the hard bench was more then their soft hearts could handle. They took off their coats and sweatshirts, and piled them around her until she had a perfect little nest of Carhartt and denim. Those bright blue eyes are as adept at charming as they are at mischief.

We are trying to rehab our rebellious heifer and create order in our little Clara. I don’t know if it is working, but yesterday I caught a glimmer of hope, at least when it comes to the human child. She wandered into my office, rhythmically chanting, “Cowgirl don’t cry.” Singing the phrase over and over, like a personal mantra. I asked her where she heard that song and she answered, “Daddy sing it.” I just hope that little darling takes that mantra to heart.

Well, my friends, a group of rough n’ ready cattle buyers, some farm chores and a Brooks & Dunn lullaby may just solve this parenting nightmare. The other one, that darn heifer calf – well, maybe a few cattle buyers will solve that problem too. It’s too early to tell.  end mark

Erica Louder is a freelance writer based in Idaho. Email Erica Louder.

PHOTO: As with our beautiful heifer who hasn't seen a fence she couldn't cross, our daughter, Clara, tests the limits of parenting. Thank heavens we see the potential of that heifer, just as we see the potential of our daughter. Photo by Erica Louder.