With the humidity off the charts and temperatures near the 90 degree mark, I would like to take you back six months to our typical winter season.
It’s the first weekend in February. The temperature is around 20 degrees. A cold sleet is slapping your exposed flesh, carried by a 10 mph wind from the north.
I’m in the tractor feeding cows when a call comes from the barn. The next two generations are tending the cattle there, and it’s packed. There are over 100 head of cattle packed into their pens and the fourth pen holds the herd sires. The bulls, normally docile, at times can be quite irrational.
The message on the phone is quick and curt at the same time.
“Grampa, get in here. We’ve got a problem.”
I respond back thinking we have a frozen waterer or a steer that is sick.
“No, Grampa. We need you to see this,” comes the reply.
Entering the barn, the boys are standing by the bull pen. My mind is racing. What now? It’s been a tough winter on the cattle. The cold and snow they can handle, but the sleet creates a different type of problem.
“Grampa, look over in the corner.”
I turn my gaze and see a small white pile. Age has given rise to visionary demands, as anyone over 45 can attest to.
“It’s snow,” I say. “So what?”
“No Grampa! It’s a calf and it just bawled!”
Grabbing a pitchfork I enter the bull pen. Eight sets of eyes watch my every step. Normally, the bulls are quiet—some even friendly. But they’re still bulls and there are two creatures violating their space…and this is their space.
Approaching the calf I pull a glove on and insert a finger into its mouth. It was as cold as death! I then move to its eyes to see if the eyelids would involuntarily blink. They did. This calf was barely alive. I call to the boys to come and get her.
Standing guard with the pitchfork, I think ‘how did a calf get born in a bull pen with no cow present?’
As they pick it up, the boys estimate it weighs 40 to 45 pounds. I guess it’s three months premature.
“What do you want to do, Grampa?” the boys ask.
“Put her in the tractor bucket and put her in the house next to the woodstove,” I say.
I grab a beach towel and lay it on the floor. The boys set the calf on the towel as I stoke the fire.
Fortunately, I have one bag of colostrum left from last year. As I mix and warm it up and prepare a shot of MU-SE, selenium and vitamin D at half dose, it’s the smallest dose I had ever administered.
Returning to the calf, her appearance has changed and I admire her markings. Solid white with a black nose, eyes, hooves and the inside of her ears are also black. A really good looking calf.
First, I administer the shot. Not much reaction. Then forcing open the mouth, I insert the nipple of the bottle and squirt some warm colostrum in. Within seconds, this calf was eagerly sucking. Next it was standing up, legs wobbling. She fell about three times but continued to bawl for more milk. After a pint-and-a-half, I took the bottle away and she was in pursuit! First me, then the boys, and even tried the dog and cat. Going to finish the chores, it was also time to find the calf’s mother.
More questions were raised after that desperate search for answers. No cows showed any sign of giving birth. But by the back of the barn outside I found afterbirth, but no cow. How did the calf get in the barn after being born outside the barn? Another unsolved mystery.
Returning to the house, finding the 100 pound German shepherd hiding, the cat hanging from the drapes, the woodpile spread all over the floor and several chairs upended. Whitey was quickly returned to the barn. The “miracle calf” was a terror!
In late May and early June as happens every year, more calves come into the barns. Twins, usually, and the cow figures she can only feed one and abandons the other one. Can’t explain it, but who can explain nature’s way?
By mid-June I had five more months to feed and time was more demanding…and then, a second “miracle” happened.
It came in the form of Haley Miracle. Haley is a neighbor and raises hogs through 4-H. She decided to try her hand with cattle, so I hired her to help with raising the calf population. The job sounds simple, giving bottles of milk to the calves, but there’s much more entailed. You have to watch for signs of illness and learn the symptoms of numerous diseases.
Haley excelled in this new endeavor and in time she could handle the entire calf population, plus take care of the bulls, heifers and numerous other cattle in the barn. She did this alone and without any supervision.
Soon thereafter, it was time to wean Whitey and move her to a separate pen. Haley and I pushed and pulled on the now stubborn February miracle.
Talking while doing the chores, Haley asked if she could show Whitey at the upcoming St. Clair County 4-H Fair, which was two weeks away.
I said, “Yes, but how are you going to train that stubborn Whitey?”
“With a little help from you, I can do it,” she replied.
So with assistance from me and her family, the fight was on. Progress at first was slow. The calf would balk and freeze up.
Weighing between 200 and 250 pounds, there was little Haley could do, so she brought her family. Her father, Conrad, and brothers Travis and Curtis are all big enough to eat hay themselves. Whitey was conquered!
The next step was grooming and a bath. With her dad on the lead rope, Haley and her mom Sue took to washing and shampooing. With the rope taut, the off-white calf soon became the color of snow again. Within one week, Whitey was enjoying her baths and especially the grooming part of this ritual.
Whitey was spoiled and she thought she was a person. The two-legged Miracle had complete control of the four-legged miracle.
At the fair, Whitey gained rock star status as everyone wanted their picture taken with her. Whitey delivered as Haley took 2nd place in Showmanship. Miracles do happen, and I guess “Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus,” and he’s always here.
Email Doug at tct@pageone-inc.com.

Doug Hunter is a lifelong Capac resident, a farmer, historian and writer. His great-great grandfather, Noble Hunter, founded the Capac Journal in the late 1800s.