Sugar, a Guernsey calf born in March, arrived at our farm on
Memorial Day weekend, the culmination of a longstanding request from my
7-year-old son for a calf of his own.
Since he could talk, my son has been asking for a calf, much like other children would ask for a pet dog or cat. Some might look at this request as odd, but in a family that loves to show cows, it really is not as strange as it seems.
This winter, my son's pleas intensified as he looked at every newborn heifer born and asked my husband if he could name the calf “Sugar.” My husband would have to say no, because the mother’s name did not begin with an S.
We name heifers with the first letter of the dam’s name to keep cow families organized on our farm. However, at each new arrival, my son would ask again, “Can I name her Sugar?”
The decision of when to give him his first calf was a challenge. On one hand, the values he will learn from having his own calf – responsibility, learning how to care for something and commitment to a project – are important. On the other, we wanted him to be old enough to take responsibility for the calf, with assistance from the family, and not something he would lose interest in.
Until this year, my husband and I did not think our son had the maturity or physical strength to show a calf. However, for the past year, he has been sticking with his barn chores and was willing to help out with our show string at the fairs.
When we purchased this calf, we discovered that her owners had not named her, which meant that our son could finally name this brown haired, blue-eyed calf “Sugar.”
Sugar now spends her days in a calf hutch where my son gets to feed her in the afternoons. And when he gets a break from “helping Daddy,” he will sneak back to pet her or give her a quick brush.
Some might wonder why we would give our son a calf of his own. For me, it was those first show calves that developed my interest in dairy farming. It also provides him with a farm kid perk of camping out at the fair. And starting next year, he will be able to participate in youth programs such as 4-H and junior dairy breed associations.
It will also be a great teacher of life lessons. I have a poster titled “All I Ever Needed to Know I Learned From a Cow,” which lists all the things cows teach people about life. My childhood was filled with those lessons – from how hard work can pay off to learning how to cope with difficult decisions.
My son’s early lessons include patience, as he and Sugar don’t always see eye to eye on the things he would like to do.
As for what my son’s future career might be, it’s too soon to tell. Lately, he’s said he wants to be a farmer, just like his dad, and maybe someday he will be. But for now, he’s happy to have his dairy herd of one.
As for me, I look forward to seeing what other life lessons he’s going to learn with a cow halter in his hand and a calf following along.
-- Charlene Shupp Espenshade, special sections editor