The following first appeared Nov. 4, 1995, in the Tribune.
Repairing water gaps and building fences got to be too much as Chub and I grew older. Reluctantly, we decided to sell the cattle and rent the pastures. We were lucky to find a fellow who bought our herd and left them here to eat the same grass, on a rental basis. This eased the pain of our feeling that we, ourselves, were "put out to pasture." We enjoyed seeing our own cattle grazing in our 60-acre front yard! It was easy to make this change.
Small herds such as ours enjoy a more personal relationship with the family than do the thundering herds that stampede across television screens. Since I was a child, our animals have had names. The kids' 4-H cows and calves responded when their names were called.
Names relate to a cow's color, markings, lineage, etc. Some were named for members of the family. When Dad sold his dairy cows, I was glad to see an end of the line of milk cows called Sue, Old Sue, Old Sue's Heifer, etc. That got to be pretty embarrassing, periodically.
When winter comes, the new owner of our shorthorns loads cows and "their get" into trailers and takes them to a feedlot several miles away. When the last load goes, it's different around here. We miss the winter activity, although it was not easy to have jobs in town and cattle to feed after dark, in winter.
We watch for the pastures to turn green and look forward to the drama that occurs when the cows come home. Of course, they are not our cows, but they look like our cows. We don't know their names, but it's nice to have cows munching grass and babies romping across their pasture playgrounds.
This is the week, maybe this very day, that the cows come home this year. Of course, they're different cows, but that doesn't dull the drama that takes place when they are unloaded. Several years ago, I sat in the front yard and took these notes:
"This is the day our farm breathes back to life. No Kansas snow is blowing through here on its way to Illinois, there are no skaters under star-studded black skies at night. No ice-covered cedar trees are bent to the ground.
"Instead, May apples curtsy to morels, asparagus raises it head. Coyotes screech, and our two dogs reply promptly. Redbud and wild pear nod in March's ballet, sweet anemones dance with violets and Dutchman's-breeches. And the cows come home!
"They're back from muddy feedlots, back to rolling pastures. But trouble comes along.
"Mothers run down slippery truck ramps. Bawling, calling, running into fences, shouting, 'Bay-bee! ... Bay-bee?' Searching, smelling, fearing, they keep calling, 'Bay-bee?'
"Suddenly, 50 anxious mothers are quiet, listening. Motionless mamas line a fence looking, hearing. Half a mile away, out of sight or sound, a truck's a' comin'... with babies! How do they know? These mothers do know!
"Finally anxious, frightened babies stumble off the down-ramp crying, 'Ma-a-ma?' again and again. Mamas come running, butting, smelling with big bags bobbing side to side. One by one they're finding, each her own. Soon slobbers are drooling, bellies are bulging, and everything is quiet."
Suddenly, our farm was resuscitated. And I was, too!