Since our fences were almost up, and some sweet neighbor gave me a flock of newly hatched chicks, my sister, brother and I decided to venture to the local animal auction to see if we could pick up a few more birds. My brother lives in town (and they don’t allow chickens 😦 ) so I told him that I would love to house a few birds for him. My sister lives beside me, so we like to do as much together as possible to share the stress, research, and work. Unfortunately there were not too many chickens at the auction and so we naively went to check out what livestock they had there. While touring the maze of stinky barn stalls my brother asked me if I would go in on a cow with him. I had seen a few babies go for about 50 dollars so I agreed on the condition he figured out how to get it to my yard, helped me finish the fences and build a shelter for it. If he did that, I agreed to pay for half the animal (and feed) and feed the cow. I also informed him that I only had 50 dollars to spend total that day and reminded him that each calf we get will probably need about 150 dollars worth of milk replacer if they are still bottle fed!!
With new purpose we sat down in the front row. This was the third auction I had watched and felt confident that I would not get caught up in the moment. Ha!!! Little did I know I was about to embark on the ride of a life time. By this time, my sister-in-law and my little nephews had arrived and we made a bit of a stir trying to squeeze them into the front row of an already full room.
One by one the animals came in. Scared, dirty and confused, they got hustled through one door-pushed around a bit and sent out the next door to meet their new fate. They started with goats. This obviously was not the goat crowd because the goats were going cheap. 100, 100, and 50,50, and 20, 20,20 SOLD!!! My brother got so excited. On and on the goats shuffled through the gates and finally one last goat came in. She was all alone, very scared, skinny and pregnant. First she walked forward, the auctioneer kept lowering the price and nobody had started bidding yet. Then the goat turned about and the whole audience gasped. There before my eyes was the biggest bulge I had ever seen. It was NOT natural and couldn’t believe anyone would even attempt to sell this goat. Who in their right mind would buys such a sickly, abused problem goat? SOLD!!! The auctioneer announced pointing to my brother. Grinning proudly he bragged “I got her for a dollar!” His wife squeeled in disbelief when she realized it was her husband who was bringing that goat home. I tried to hush her (thinking that my brother just spent a dollar for a walking problem but not wanting to make him feel worse than he would be once reality sunk in-something was definitely wrong with that goat) and hoped that nobody else noticed that we just bought the worst animal at the auction. It didn’t work, everyone was staring at us and smirking.
Gratefully the cows started coming in through next. In came a mad bred cow. She was snorting, she was huffing, she was racing around the room glaring at us all. My son and nephew backed off as far as they could go, and to the amusement of on-lookers, two clamoured to the next row back. I just sat as still as I could-she was scary. Then came calves. You do not know how delighted we were when we bid on a calf and actually won the bid at 110. There were three in the lot and we picked biggest of the three. As they were leading our calf out, I heard my brother ask if we could take the medium calf for the same price. The auctioneer agreed and I was secretly thrilled to have two calfs. I couldn’t believe I was the proud owner of two calves. If my husband was here he definitely would not have been impressed, but somehow, sitting beside my two equally naive optimistic siblings it seemed perfectly wise. Then to make matters better, the auctioneer started off the bid for the last of the three calves and nobody was biting. . . except my sister who slyly got the third calf for 20 dollars!! Wow!! What fun!! We were delighted (except my sister-in-law who kept asking us ‘Why do we need three cows?’ to which nobody had an answer to).
I would have liked to stay and watch more of the auction, but the truth of our situation was quickly sinking in. Here were were, owners of 5 chickens, a goat and three cows and no way of getting them home!! My resourceful brother took it all in stride. With more class than I would have imagined he coolly showed up to pick up his livestock a few hours later with a rented u-haul trailer!! We had got looks when we bought the calves, and those looks got better as we drove off leaving a trail of calf urine leaking out the floor of the trailer. We didn’t care. It was so fun doing things together, and laughing at ourselves and enjoying the moment. Unfortunately we were not prepared for what awaited us back home.
Since my sister is pregnant, my brother sent her home with his wife to rest and get our families prepared. Five hours after purchasing our calves we drove up to “The Land”. The kids were all eagerly waiting to see our purchases but my sister was not so pleased. “Did you know. . .” she began the minute I got out of the suburban “that Houlstein cows are the most dangerous cows out there? Did you know they killed a thousand people last year. And the bulls are the worse, they are nasty, they just turn on you the minute you aren’t looking. And I read on the internet. . .” she continued hardly pausing for a breath “THE BOTTLE FED BULLS ARE THE WORSE!!!”. She stopped and stared at me, letting that statement hang in the air before asking “Did we get bulls or heifers??” I stopped too and admitted sheepishly “I don’t know”. My brother opened the door and to our dismay three skinny (they looked better at the auction), scouring bulls stumbled from their confinement (we had stopped often to open the back and let fresh air in). “That’s it!” my sister cried “everyone out of the pen. These bulls are going back.”
“They can’t go back” I argued “nobody is going to buy three skinny sick calves. We have to at least fatten them up a bit. Maybe if we casterate them they won’t be so bad.”
My sisters face lit up “That’s right the internet said that if you casterate them they change from being bulls to being girls.”
I was working with the goat when she said that and stopped “They DO NOT turn into the girls” I countered
“Yes they do” she insisted “I read it on the internet!”
“Dear sister of mine” I scoffed (yes I need to be gentler) “there is no way that casterating a bull turns them into a female. Haven’t you read the proclamation to the family-gender is part of our pre-mortal existence”
She laughed “I know but the internet said “if you casterate a bull it becomes a steer!”. I burst out laughing then, and was pleased to at least know that “a steer is a casterated bull-not a female cow”. Good naturally my sister laughed at her mistake.
“Fine, but I am asking Brother Still (a local rancher) to tell us what to do. He is already on his way because I called him about milk replacer, and he called the feed store and convinced them to stay open longer so we can pick up so we can pick it up.” she retorted, still upset.
Well it wasn’t long before Brother Still showed up. Without even cracking a joke or smile he looked over our ‘herd’. “Brother Still, what should we do with all our bulls” my sister asked desperately (my sister is very dramatic). With this question he looked over at her still poker faced and responded “These are all heifers, not bulls!” Everyone cheered at that announcement, though the adults were very embarrassed (but relieved).
Thankfully Brother Still educated us on cow anatomy, how to feed baby calves, how to keep them safe and healthy. Everyone took turns feeding, petting and loving the poor scared creatures. After Brother Still left my sister and I just looked at each other and laughed. We sure have a lot to learn, and doing it together makes the whole journey way better!