Changes in farm operations and, therefore, a veterinarian’s responsibility, have been huge in the last fifty years. Not only have the big operations made the little farms turn to planted pines, but the little ones who do appear are often run as hobby farms by either men or women. Some of those changes are reflected in my note from the 1980’s:
Probably the woman who worried the most about her cows during calving season (rest of the year, too, for that matter) was Sarah Williams. Sarah and her husband were from Florida and most of the time he was still in that sunny state while she was in Georgia coaxing calves to eat. The couple were in the process of retiring and starting a cattle ranch in Grady County.
Sarah was small with tiny hands. Her face was round, framed by dark curls and she was eternally cheerful, yet anxious and dubious. She had no long years of training in animal husbandry, just a desire to “learn the ropes.” She had a sweet whiny voice and, though she apologized for it, she called any time of day or night to ask Charles’ advice or ask him to come. It wasn’t unusual during calving season for her to call two or three times in the middle of the same night and wee hours of morning. She might call eight or ten times, in fact, about the same cow before the poor girl finally delivered. Sometimes Charles would strip to the waist in a cold biting wind in the dark of the night only to find the cow far from ready to deliver. Just as he got warm again and fell into a deep sleep the phone would ring again and Sarah would be sure that this time the cow was really ready.
Charles was extremely patient, I thought. He would shrug his shoulders after hanging up the phone and say, “Sarah again. She thinks maybe the cow’s ready. I’ll have to go.”
Charles explained Sarah’s anxiety by retelling one of his favorite stories. He arrived on the scene one night to find Sarah at the back end of a cow giving mouth-to-mouth resuscitation to an unborn calf. She was covered in mud and blood and her eyes were wide with fear. He’d explained to her that the calf wasn’t designed to start breathing until it was out of the womb. “You mean I did this for nothing?” she asked. “Pretty much,” he told her. To me he said, “Anybody that dedicated, you have to admire.”
Once, after a particularly trying week when Charles had been to Sarah’s farm after hours a dozen or so times, I heard a knock at our front door. Leaving luncheon preparations, I found Sarah on the front porch, an anxious smile dimpling her face. “I’ve brought you a peace offering for keeping your husband out so much lately,” she said as she handed me three pints of mayhaw jelly. It was really good jelly and I forced myself to remember her kindness, her naivete, her eagerness when next she woke us at 1:00 a.m. to say “I’ve been down to the barn and that cow I called about earlier is standing. Shouldn’t she be lying down?”
P.S. I don’t think Sarah’s husband had his heart in building a ranch operation in Georgia. They moved back to Florida!