Little Simon, the abandoned (soon to be) steer has become the newest addition to our family. I found him last Thursday (October 24th), right at dusk. I had been putting up a section of temporary fence so our cows can do what they do best, turn grass into delicious beef. After finishing up, I called to the girls and waited for them to make the short trek through the tree lined road and into literally greener pastures. They came in small groups, arrogantly sauntering as well-fed cows so often do, and began not so quietly doing their best impersonation of a lawn mower.
It had been a cold day and the wind was picking up and I was as Wendell Berry so beautifully puts it, “rest[ing] in the grace of the world” after a long but rewarding day. It’s something special to see the fruits of our labor before our eyes and that is one of the things that has drawn me so deeply back to the farm and back to the land. As I was savoring the deep satisfaction that a day spent farming brings, I turned to see one small calf struggling up the path. He was covered in dried birth fluids, his head hanging low, and he stumbled every few feet. I had heard his mother giving birth a few hours before and had gone to check on them. She was doing well and it was obvious that she didn’t need nor want any help, so I went back to my fencing. Now here was her calf, hungry and exhausted. As I think back on it, it’s amazing that here I was just a few moments before feeling at utter peace with the world and yet not 200 yards away, hidden by the trees, a newborn calf was suffering and barely surviving.
When you think about it though isn’t that the way of the world? One family celebrates a birth while another mourns a great loss, some folks go through life with the golden Midas touch while others seem to be haunted by failure and desolation, and so it goes. All of this begs the question, how do we go on being happy while there is such suffering in the world? Certainly we have an obligation to lessen the wretched plight of the weak but to what extent? How much do we or rather, should we sacrifice our own goals, dreams, and even happiness to help pull others out of despair?I don’t know much but I do know that watching that little calf go up to mother cow after mother cow and be rejected, my heart just about broke in half. There’s a lot of sadness in the world but watching him be pushed, knocked down, and even kicked, I think I felt every bit of it. What a horrible thing, to be unloved and unwanted. Even now it makes me want to rush home and give the little guy a big hug.
After his rejections, he was so weak that he curled up in a tiny fragile ball and laid his little head down. It was cold and the sun was still out and he was almost as cold as the ground so I wrapped my coat around him and tried to figure out what to do. We ended up taking him home to the barn where we toweled him off, dressed him in an old fleece-lined dog blanket, and bottle fed him warm milk replacer until we could get colostrum in him the next morning. He made it through that night and the next day and now, 10 days later, he is alive and well. He has an appetite and an attitude if we don’t hold the bottle at just the right angle for him. To get him some exercise, I take him a bottle and run through the backyard. He canters after me, on fairly steady legs, and throws a buck or shakes his head when he feels good. I guess I’m his mom now and I’m not sure who is more attached to whom. He has to be fed every couple of hours so even in the middle of the night my mom and I will go down to the barn, turn on our favorite old twangy country music station and give him his bottle. Trust me, it sounds a lot more pleasant now than it does when the alarm goes off at 3 in the morning. But such is life and such is farming.
I’ve been posting pictures and updates of Simon on Facebook and a friend of mine from college wrote:
“it is very beautiful to see how Simon, cast off, abandoned without hope and left for dead ,has been made new, redeemed and adopted for a greater purpose than even he is aware. Oh the beauty of the gospel everywhere we look.”
And that so eloquently sums up what we are trying to do at Bold Branch Beef. I don’t think we are going to change the world, or the broken food system, or even the way folks in the community think about food, but what we are trying to do is be a small piece in the great redemption story of the world. We are trying to heal the land so it produces better grass, to heal the animals of pain and sickness, and to heal ourselves and our community by showing that life isn’t all hustle and bustle, that meaning can be found in the quiet, still moments. Earlier I stole a line from Wendell Berry’s beautiful poem, The Peace of Wild Things. Here it is in full. What a gift he has.
THE PEACE OF WILD THINGS
When despair for the world grows in me
and I wake in the night at the least sound
in fear of what my life and my children’s lives may be,
I go and lie down where the wood drake
rests in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds.
I come into the peace of wild things
who do not tax their lives with forethought
of grief. I come into the presence of still water.
And I feel above me the day-blind stars
waiting with their light. For a time
I rest in the grace of the world, and am free.— Wendell Berry