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The Son Of Big Sue

by Israel Mossman

Big Sue was due to "come fresh" any day now. When she did not return with the herd from night pasture, it could only mean that she had given birth and probably was in the woods, hiding from dairy farmers and other predators who might harm her newly arrived offspring. I jumped on my temperamental steed, an old cantankerous International Farmall "C" tractor. From that elevated, mobile observation platform, I could quickly check the fences adjoining the pasture to see where she had broken through. Finding the break, I jumped off the tractor and entered the woods, hoping not to encounter any unfriendly, woodsy creatures such as snakes, ticks, or poison oak.

There she was, in the woods, nervously guarding her newborn bull calf. There is no way to transport a calf on a tractor, so I knelt on one knee, placing my right arm under his hindquarters and my left arm under his chest, and slowly lifted the noisy, squirming, 90-pound bundle of joy. Then I carried him the half mile back to the barn area, with the new mommy following close behind.

Big Sue was upset beyond belief. She bellowed loudly enough to be heard in the next county. She was afraid that I would take her baby from her, and her fears were well-founded. But I knew that she would not attack me, at least not now. She was too intent on following her son. But she cried in her own bovine way with all the anguish that a human mother would have if her baby were taken from her.

It was necessary to separate cow and calf at once, before permanent bonding could take place. Big Sue, heartbroken and howling, was ushered into the milking barn. Her son was carried into the calf stable. There, he would learn to drink from a galvanized bucket by having liquid splashed into his face by a hand that he could suck. He no longer had a mother to nuzzle against.

Big Sue went to her usual stall to be relieved of her colostrum, the predecessor of her milk that nature intended her newborn calf to have. But when a pulsing, throbbing, milking machine was applied to her teats instead of her rambunctious calf suckling her, she kicked at me but missed--hitting the milking machine instead. She knocked the heavy contraption 25 feet, and it broke apart at its seams. If she had connected with me below the rib cage with that much force, it would have ruptured my aorta and my wife would have become my widow. Dairy farming is indeed more dangerous than coal mining. Trying to calm both myself and the rightfully angry cow, I said in my most soothing voice that it was illegal to repair a stainless steel milker (bacteria might hide in the mended seams) and, besides that, it was expensive to do so. Fortunately, my mechanic had mastered the delicate technique of brazing stainless steel with silver at low heat. Big Sue was still angry, unimpressed by my comforting monologue. The only remaining alternative was to restrain her by looping a rope forward of her pelvis and udder, and drawing it tight. The resulting pressure on her sciatic nerve would temporarily weaken her rear legs so she would not kick. But I tightened the rope too much, and she began to fall slowly on me. Not wanting to be buried by more than one-half ton of cow, I loosened the rope just enough so she could stand again but not kick. She was now subdued but not very happy. The milking process than continued without further incident.

There is no need for a young bull on a dairy farm. Since Thursday's livestock auction was a few days away, he would be lucky enough to be nourished by his mother's colostrum for a short time. Then he would live on "calf starter" mix--heavily laced with antibiotics but short on nutrients. In a few months he would become veal to satisfy the appetites of his new owner's family.

Since Big Sue became her sassy old self again in a few days, she must have forgotten all about her young son. But I never did, and it has been over 30 years now.

Note: The writer asked the dairy farm owner, his mother-in-law, to sell the farm. She did.

Israel Mossman

From the May/June, 1992 issue of Vegetarian Journal, published by the Vegetarian Resource Group, P.O. Box 1463, Baltimore, MD 21203, (410) 366-VEGE.

Jonathan Esterhazy / Manitoba Animal Rights Coalition /

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