Maybe Baby

Winnie came into our lives like most of our animals: without much prior discussion or careful planning.  I stalked an advertisement for her throughout the summer, watched her sales price drop slowly into the category of feasibility to a point that it seemed stupid not to just bring her to the farm.  As a gentle reminder, it’s generally not advisable to purchase fire sale livestock, certainly not sight unseen (like me), certainly not without considerable forethought (like me), certainly not just because you have always dreamed of Jersey girls (not those kinds).  We lucked out with Winnie since, in a rare occurrence, she lived up to every shining attribute her previous owner touted in the ad.  And after nine breathless months of waiting, it turns out she was pregnant, too.  She came to us overweight and rotund, looking like a “calf hammock” as Fran says, from the moment she stepped off the trailer.  Since September I have said she is maybe, but maybe not, going to have a calf without having a vet confirm the situation.  This morning we were finally certain because Winnie’s maybe baby showed up, bewildered by life, at 7:30 this morning.

photo 1(81)

Winnie’s calf, Maybe

I know the exact time of this event because it was exactly at 7:30 that I heard Jer’s uneasy voice at the bedroom window.  “Something’s wrong with Winnie,” he said gravely.  “Jenna, JENNA.  Something is wrong.  With WINNIE,” words scary enough to puncture my sweet, sweet dream of sleeping late and living in a condominium with no morning responsibility other than making coffee.  After processing his words, I nearly fell onto the floor in a tangle of sheets, stumbled to the window where I saw her fuzzy shape sideways across the ground.  Jer rushed out of the door and sprinted to the pasture as I pushed glasses onto my face – my hands trembled perceptibly.  And there she was.  My strong yellow cow, saccharine in her affection for people, stretched painfully in the pasture, legs pointed and rigid, her head arched backwards, and body fallen on an incline.  My heart that already pounds too hard and fast for these animals, dropped directly to my ankles.

NO.  I shouted out loud, or maybe the words just screeched through my head as the alarm bell pressure of blood and adrenaline pounded against my ears.  That putrid, sick feeling of dread we’ve grown accustomed to, oozed like glycerin through my veins, and I was overcome with the sense of suiting up in invisible armor, unsure if I’d need it or not.

Pulling on shoes, I ran out to the pasture where Jer already stood, inspecting her nether regions.  “There’s a calf!!” He sounded breathless, his adrenaline flying, “there’s a calf, it’s brand new, but Winnie is completely stuck.”  And nearing our sweet cow I could see the impossibility of her position, how she must have flopped on her side in the trauma of birth, her heavy body lying on the leg that she needed in order to right herself.  Her eyes were wild, nostrils flaring.  Her body fought against the flood of hormones that tell an animal to get to the baby.  She flailed and struggled, trapped in a terrible misery.  Winnie could not right herself due to exhaustion and unfortunate positioning.  I vaguely remember shouting nonsensical directions to Jeremy about the tractor, about using it to push her half-ton body, “Do something!” I pleaded, as he stood thoughtful over the situation.  In these moments I crave action, even if it has no direction.  Jeremy prefers to formulate a solid plan (the jury’s still out on which of our approaches are usually the most effective).  While he stood thinking, I inspected the baby, still wet in a puddle of blood and mucous, wide-eyed and gorgeous – an enormous, red bull calf.  He looked up at me pathetically with two perfect doe eyes just as a shiver overtook his thin body.  Enough, I thought.  I wrapped my arms around him, after-birth soaking my entire upper body, sopping my shirt – tried to stand him on sea legs.  Jer helped me steady the calf, and we walked/dragged him towards Winnie’s frantic face.  She stuck her tongue out to clean him, wailed mournfully and rocked her body furiously off of her side.  In an instant she had successfully rolled, both legs tucked beneath her – precisely the position required for a cow to push itself up to standing.

She stood in one swift movement of strength, and with some prodding, he toddled towards her udder and nursed just enough to gain a surge of energy that sent him into an awkward bounce.  He landed on his belly, rubber legs splayed in all directions.  We laughed or cried (sometimes, here, it is the same).  And I dragged myself inside, peeled off the clothes stuck on with placental paste, scrubbed up to my armpits, and milked the goats.

Last night we went to a wedding where all the guests were squeaky clean and gorgeous in their spring best.  We showed up 1.5 hours late because of evening milking chores.  Strips of hair plastered across my forehead from dried sweat, and my toenails (visible in sandals) showed signs of ancient dirt.  The magnolia oil I haphazardly patted onto my neck only faintly covered Eau de Livestock, my signature and fundamental scent.  We threw caution to the wind and stayed out late – way too late – stopped at the 24 hour Taco Cabana on the way home for chips and queso, reminisced about the many nights spent there after parties or bars, when time didn’t matter because the next morning would start whenever I wanted to roll out of bed.  Not a minute before.

We were rocked back to our chosen reality this morning, bleary eyed and stumbling.  I think about Barbara Kingsolver’s words in Animal, Vegetable, Miracle when she considers (and decides against) a dairy animal because it commits one to an “unbreakable date” with the universe.  Every day.  Every day.  Every day.  I weigh that reality against the alternatives on days like this, when fatigue physically grinds my internal gears to a halt; propelling the body forward becomes a negotiation between muscles and brain.  Today, I don’t have beautiful words to illustrate a true story.  I can’t articulate the passion that urged me to agree to this “unbreakable date.”  I only know this: There is food a person eats just to satiate hunger.  And then there is food a person tends, and loves, and invites in as a partner for this one, big, wild life.  It is, perhaps, not the most logical reason to sacrifice the solitude of a life more ordinary.

But I am aiming for extraordinary.

photo 2(89)


Barnyard, Cows, Dairy, Motivation, Uncategorized


  • Joan @ The Chicken Mama

    May 4, 201410:41 pm

    I read this wonderful post of yours, steeped in the wonder of life, with my favorite chicken, near death, on my lap in my living room.

    This interaction we have with our animals is breathtaking in its joy, its comfort that we’ve given them a life well lived, its daily surprise of how much we love them.

    Congratulations, Winnie! And welcome to the world, Winnie’s Maybe :-)

    • jennakl

      May 12, 201410:01 am

      Joan – how is your sweet little chicken?? You hit the nail on the head – the relationships are “breathtaking” for all the reasons you mentioned.

  • Cheryl

    April 30, 20148:51 am

    Congratulations!! We also have a new (to us) cow with a maybe baby (hopefully!!). Time will tell if we are destined to be…dare I say it…cow grandparents????. HA! You have a gift with words and I’m so glad I stumbled upon your blog.

    • jennakl

      May 12, 201410:00 am

      Cheryl – Thank you so much for the lovely note. Welcome, and I’m glad you found us! I believe we are cow grandparents!

  • Rachael Taylor

    April 28, 201411:46 am

    I have chills. And tears.

    If ever I was going to tattoo something on my body it would be that last little snippet of wisdom. You are indeed extraordinary friend.

    • jennakl

      May 12, 20149:59 am

      Rachael – xo. Ditto x 10

  • Tiffany Speake

    April 28, 20149:43 am

    Owning, caring for, and knowing our animals is always a bittersweet experience. Their shorter lifespan, their health issues, their accidents are a bitter balance to their personalities, their love, and their companionship. I like that you don’t sugar coat your experience with your animals. People need to know the realistic commitment involved in their care. For some of us the pros far out way the cons.

    • jennakl

      May 12, 20149:59 am

      Absolutely, Tiffany!

  • Jenny

    April 28, 20146:45 am

    Congrats!!!! As I was reading… I think I was holding my breath, supporting you, really understanding, feeling what you’re feeling! Even though I’ve never owned a sweet dairy cow, make no mistake, this is the life we choose!

    • jennakl

      May 12, 20149:59 am

      Sometimes, Jenny, I have to SAY THAT – out LOUD – “I CHOSE THIS” can’t blame anyone else ;)

  • Coco Rogers

    April 27, 201410:24 pm

    I was right there beside you, reading this. Scary, and funny-sweet, and wonderful, all at once.

    • jennakl

      May 12, 20149:58 am

      Thank you thank you Coco!

  • ashley

    April 27, 20149:01 pm

    YES! YES! YES!!!!

  • Amy S

    April 27, 20148:34 pm

    This post brought me to tears. Not because of my fear and then relief over Maybe’s entrance into this world (although I am overjoyed with the great outcome), but because you have put my desperate emotions into words. The most difficult thing I do on a daily basis, is dedicate myself to everyone else’s well being. Milking goats and feeding chickens and donkeys all before my young children wake up in the morning can be torture but the relationship we have with our food will have a permanent effect on our lives. I appreciate you sharing yours with all of us.

    • jennakl

      May 12, 20149:56 am

      Amy S – you said it exactly – total devotion to someone/something else. It makes the payoff that much sweeter ;) So glad you enjoyed the story.

  • Margot

    April 27, 20147:24 pm

    What an amazing story, I could put myself in your shoes as I read! Owning a small farm, I have had my share of crazy, panic-mode moments. I am so glad it had a happy ending, the baby is gorgeous! Enjoy and thanks for sharing!

    • jennakl

      May 12, 20149:55 am

      You also probably could put yourself in my shoes because you’ve been through this drama yourself, Margot!

  • Mary Hall

    April 27, 20147:06 pm

    Congratulations on your new arrival and thank you so very much for sharing this beautiful story.

    • jennakl

      May 12, 20149:55 am

      Thanks so much Mary and glad you enjoyed the story!!