Posted by: Marie | January 4, 2011

(481) Innocent questions

Post #481
[Private journal entry written on Wednesday, August 4, 2010]

I have a seven-year-old piano student who has not spent much time around farm animals despite the fact we live in an agricultural region. So, her parents thought it would be neat to get her involved in “4-H” (a club in which children learn life skills especially useful in farming and ranching environments).

After today’s piano lesson, the mother and the daughter were telling me about how they had recently ridden on the 4-H float in the Independence Day parade here in town. The mother mentioned that the people in charge of the float had cautioned the mother and daughter to stay back a few feet from the calves that were also riding on the float. In our conversation today, the mother stated, in passing, that she didn’t know why – surely such cute animals wouldn’t do anything harmful . . . ??

Photo by Martin Chen

I kind of giggled. Then, I explained that, when calves become stressed (as they likely would riding on a float rolling down Main Street with all kinds of whistling, clapping, hollering and firecrackering going on around them), they often have explosive diarrhea. So, it is wise to stay back a few feet if you want to be allowed to mingle with humans afterwards. And, this is the same reason why one should be reverently quiet when walking directly alongside a semi-truck hauling a load of cattle – or, better yet, one should just keep a fair distance away from the trailer, if possible. (I grew a farm girl – there are some things I learned in the process that have proven valuable in life since, LOL.)

“Ah!!”, the mother stated. “That makes sense!”

Then, the conversation shifted to the mother’s curiosity about why the calves had been called “bucket calves”. She wondered if they had been kept in a bucket after birth, if they had been conceived via some “mixing” done in a bucket (instead of a test tube???) She redeemed herself when she made the guess they had been fed through a nipple attached to a bucket . . .

Then the mother wondered out loud why calves would ever need to be hand raised . . . why wouldn’t they just stay with their mothers?

I explained there were many reasons . . . for example, some mothers don’t want to be bothered with taking care of their offspring . . . they’d as soon kill them. (Gasp! Really? Yes, really!) I went on to explain that, in my childhood, we had a sow (mother pig) who produced large, healthy litters, but she would kill and eat her babies within a minute or two of birth unless we immediately took them away from her. So, we always made sure we had other sows due to give birth a few days prior to the mean sow’s due date so we could give the babies to the other sows to suckle.

The mother got this very puzzled look on her face . . . “So, how do you control when a sow gives birth? Don’t they get pregnant when they get pregnant and give birth when they give birth?”

Now, the seven-year-old student had been intently listening to this entire conversation. I knew I had been walking a fine line between using accurate husbandry terminology and using “fuzzy” terminology when the topics got a little . . . um . . . fact-of-life-ish. So, I paused for a moment to ponder how I could answer the current question without crossing over into details this mother might not want her daughter to yet know.

Finally, I gave up on finding a delicate way to answer. I mean, if the daughter is going to be involved in 4-H, she is going to learn the facts of life sooner rather than later – and learning from observing farm animals is not the worst way to learn.

But, out of respect, I did try to keep my explanation as “high level” as I could: “Well, you control the due date by controlling the breeding date, and you control the breeding date by controlling when you wean the previous litter.”

The daughter, who had been hanging off to the side, suddenly inserted herself smack dab into the middle of our conversational space. With her face full of inquiry, she asked, “Mommy, what is breeding?”

That’s when I knew I had answered quite enough questions for the day . . . LOL!


  1. LOL! I loved this. I, too, grew up on a farm. My 4-H experience was extensive. I was something of a brat to the city folk and wouldn’t divulge any information that might keep them “clean” and unafraid. (wouldn’t let 7 year olds get hurt tho) Even as an adult, I can usually get at least 2 other adults to agree to try cow tipping. Oh, this brings back many memories.

    • Hey, Ivory –

      It is good to hear from you!

      It is rather wicked fun to use the ignorance of city folk for a bit of humor! Don’t you agree that every human need to have the experience of cow tipping at least once in their lifetime!?!?


      – Marie

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