Death is not something our society is very comfortable talking about. There has been a shift towards avoiding any pain or hardships in recent decades. While I don’t purposefully set out to cause myself pain (it’s human nature to protect ourselves), it is a fact of life here on earth.
Growing up on a farm, one is more aware of the cycle of life and death. At eight years old, I was the only child still at home (my older seven siblings were adults, and my two younger brothers hadn’t been born yet; for those of you who don’t know, I’m one of ten children).
Though we had a herd of one hundred and thirty cattle, my father still worked his day job as a log truck driver. When the on-site butcher came, it was my job to show them which cows and steers were being butchered. Obviously, the goal is to only butcher steers, but when using a bull (no AI), you don’t get to pick the gender. If we had a year where more females were born than males, that meant some cows would get butchered.
Because I was the only remaining kid at home, I helped my dad feed the herd every evening through fall and winter. I learned to drive a stick shift at eight, even though I could barely get the clutch all the way to the floorboard because my legs were so short. I tell you what, there’s no faster way to learn not to pop the clutch than having your dad standing on the tailgate and throwing him off.
Due to the butcher’s schedule, they could only come mid-week. Dad couldn’t afford to miss a day of hauling, so it was my responsibility to meet the butcher in the field and point out which cows were to be harvested.
Dad went through the list with me the night before, “The two-year-old-bald face steer with the red mark above his eye, the one with the horns, and the curled-hoof cow.”
We didn’t have numbered ear tags. Dad knew each cow, how many calves she’d had, and if she was a good mom or not from being with his herd. Not to mention it was an extra expense we couldn’t afford.
When the butcher showed up, I met them in the field. I pointed out each cow according to Dad’s list.
The last cow was the curled-hoof one. We waited for the butcher to gut the cows to get the tongues, hearts, and livers (those are taken at butcher time, on-site).
I gasped in horror when they processed the curled-hoof cow. She was carrying an almost full-term calf.
I’d picked the wrong cow.
There were two curled-hoofed cows in the herd. One was pregnant, and the other was not.
Hot tears burned my eyes. Sorrow gripped my chest in an iron grip.
With the advent of social media, I’ve seen many a person claim if you raise animals for meat, you’re heartless and cruel. Most of these folks haven’t a clue about what a farmer goes through.
We care deeply about our animals. We understand sacrifice. I’d dare to say we understand it at a level someone who has only bought their food from a grocery store never will.
We sacrifice under the hot days of summer when hay must be brought in. When our skin glistens not with the drops from a sprinkler or quick dip in the creek but from sweat and bits of itchy hay. In winter, we’re breaking ice, draining hoses, and feeding extra portions, multiple times a day.
When an animal is sick or in trouble, we will stay up all night, in any weather, to nurse it back. We cry when they don’t make it and rejoice when they do.
This past January, we battled for a full week to save our milk cow, Clover. She birthed a breech, upside-down, large bull calf. For two days, we were out every four hours, in the wee pitch-black hours of the morning and the cold sleeting hours of the afternoon, fighting to keep her alive.
She was buried in our back pasture on a Friday afternoon. For the next 24 hours, I cried almost non-stop. Her death hit me harder than any other animal we’ve shepherded in my forty-two years of farm life.
I am a day late turning in this article because, though I felt God nudging me to share this story with you, my heart didn’t want to relive it in the telling.
In the moment, I wasn’t sure why God had brought Clover into our lives only to have her exit what felt so prematurely. We’d only had her for nine months.
But isn’t that the beauty of redemption?
Even when something is hard. Painful. It doesn’t seem to make sense… until redemption.
“But isn’t that the beauty of redemption? Even when something is hard. Painful. It doesn’t seem to make sense… until redemption.”
We’re going to have pain in this life. We live in a broken world.
We cannot change that fact. No matter how much we want to or how hard we try.
But God can take those broken circumstances and, from the ashes, create beauty.
If we’d not had Clover go down and require the use of hip clamps, I wouldn’t have put out the SOS call on social media to locate a pair. Which means I’d have never met the lovely dairy farmer and her husband who came to the rescue of complete strangers on a dark January night.
We’ve since become friends and are now attending a Bible study together. I know we’ve yet to see all God will bring from our having met.
Redemption means despite all the things I’ve done wrong in my life—and there are many—God forgave them. Not only does that mean I get to go to heaven someday to be in His presence, but He’s actively redeeming situations in my life here on earth. And yours, too.
As I thought of a recipe to share with you here, I couldn’t find one more fitting than this.
My great-grandmother passed down many things in our family, and though I never knew her, I still think of the woman she was whenever I use her recipes or sieve while making applesauce, raspberry jelly, and blackberry syrup.
I know she was a God-fearing woman and an excellent baker, hence her recipe for Heavenly Chocolate Mayo Cake is still our go-to recipe. I wonder if she had any idea her legacy would live on in my home. //
Grandma’s Chocolate Mayo Cake & Caramel Frosting
- 2 cups flour (I use fresh ground soft white wheat, but all-purpose or cake flour is fine.)
- 1 cup sugar
- 1/2 cup cocoa
- 1 teaspoon baking soda
- 1 teaspoon baking powder
- 3/4 cup mayonnaise
- 1/2 cup cold water
- 1/2 cup brewed coffee
- 1 teaspoon vanilla
- 5 Tablespoons butter
- 1 and 1/2 cups brown sugar
- 3 Tablespoons boiling water
- 1 teaspoon vanilla
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Stir all dry ingredients together. Combine wet ingredients with dry until smooth. Pour into greased and floured pans. Bake at 350 degrees for 30 to 40 minutes for a cake or 16 minutes for cupcakes. Cool completely before frosting.
For frosting, beat butter and vanilla together. Slowly add in sugar until creamed together. Pour in boiling water and beat until creamy. Spread over cake/cupcakes.
Blessings and Mason jars,
Melissa K. Norris is a 5th generation homesteader who married a city boy… but that city boy quickly became a country boy and turned into a bonafide farmer when they moved to Melissa’s family property. With their two children they believe in keeping the old ways alive. She is an author, blogger, and podcaster. Learn more by visiting: www.melissaknorris.com.