One of the best aspects of farming is taking both full responsibility and full pride in whatever happens in my fields.

Illinois Farm Families Blog

Nov 06 2015

Love, loss and livestock

It’s been one of those weeks on the farm; Olaf the Bottle Calf has died.

One night late last week, John knew he wasn’t feeling great and kept him in the barn overnight. He went out the next morning and Olaf was dead. If you recall, Olaf was the bottle calf who came to be last spring, a twin whose momma stepped on his leg and broke it. Olaf struggled with pneumonia at one point and overall, we all knew he wasn’t as healthy as he should’ve been; milk replacer is good, but it’s not as good as your momma.

farm girl and calfFrom the start, he belonged to Caroline, our seven year old. She loved him and fed him and showed him all over the county over the summer, shaking in her boots the first time but determined to do it.

Sweet little Caroline’s heart broke just a little bit when I told her. Her little shoulders crumpled, hot tears fell and she asked all the questions: Why did he get sick? Why did he die? Why couldn’t he have lived? I told her she gave him such a good life while he was here, caring for him so well. Olaf loved the attention.

That night, I sat in bed with Caroline and she asked, as honestly and earnestly as any seven year old can: “Mom, why do all the bad things happen to me? My best friend moved away, my bottle calf died.”

My heart.

I told her I didn’t know. But that it’s in the hard stuff that God makes us into better people.

These days are full of sadness. An empty show halter that was Olaf’s. A dozen crayon-colored pictures. But a day will come when she’ll look back and know this experience shaped her young life. Like every farmer before her, she’ll know what it is to have loved an animal, to have raised it, and to have lost it.

Maybe it’ll even be an award-winning FFA speech someday.

I don’t know. But this I do know: the Lord used that sickly little calf to enlarge her heart, to help her do hard things, to grant her responsibility, and to teach her to grieve.

That we might all be so fortunate to have an Olaf.


Originally posted on Prairie Farmer: My Generation.

Marietta, IL

Holly and her husband, John, farm in western Illinois where they raise their three children. On their farm, they grow crops and raise cattle with John's parents. Holly is also an associate editor for Prairie Farmer magazine, a publication dedicated to sharing information about farm life and farm business.

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