One of the best things about having a farm is the CUTE FUZZY BABY ANIMALS. Who wouldn't want to teach a calf to bottle feed, and see them come running at feeding time?
Except that sometimes, the babies don't love you immediately.
Such was the case with the calf Niagara. She has a skittish personality. At least, that's how she seems on the surface. But if there is one thing I have learned about cows in the past 6 years, it's that they respond well to consistent, loving care.
It's hard when you spend time with a calf twice a day, every day, feeding them and trying to love on them, and they shy away from you except when they are distracted guzzling milk. She wouldn't let me approach her. She wouldn't take treats from my hand. She clearly was terrified of me while all I wanted was to be her friend.
For 3 months this went on. There were days that I was frustrated and I wanted to just give up on her. But her future is to be a dairy cow, and for her to be a dairy cow, she has to be willing to be handled.
The thing is, you can't force a cow to let you handle her. You can hardly force a cow to do anything. I mean, there are certain tricks and tools you can use to outsmart a cow. But, they are bigger than you (even though a calf is small, she will grow!). And if you want to be safe around them, then they have to feel safe around you. That means you can't force them to do what you need them to do, so I don't consider forcing a cow to be an option.
I did the only thing that I could do with Niagara. I loved her. Even though she didn't love me back. I continued to be kind. I continued to spend time around her. I stifled the urge to show frustration and modeled the kind of relationship that I wanted us to have.
One day when I was in her pen, kneeling with my back to her, do you know what happened? She came up to me and sniffed me. I couldn't believe it! She sniffed my hand. I slowly moved my hand and held it out, open. Not reaching for her, just letting her be near it.
Fast forward a couple of months, Niagara and I are buddies. She will still skip away from me if I'm carrying a big bucket that she doesn't trust. But I make a point every day of slowing down to be with her. She loves being petted and if I don't reach out and scratch her neck, she shakes her head like, come on, pet me!
She is going to make a wonderful dairy cow for some lucky family one day.
I learned from Niagara that relationships take patience. And I dare say, forgiveness. Niagara did nothing wrong, but still, I was hurt by her unwillingness to trust me. The only way to achieve a good relationship with her was to behave in the way that I wanted our relationship to be, even when she was not reciprocating that friendship.
What do you think? Would the world be a better place if we could all learn from baby cows? Comment below.
Niagara is a Lynch Lineback, an endangered heritage breed of cows from Canada. They are a hardy pre-industrial breed that milk well in low input systems.