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‘A Dairy Farmer’s Christmas’ by Shane Brown


My work week during the Christmas holidays was a little different last week.

I didn’t work my normal job but only two days. My boss, Anthony, had family in town and he wanted to celebrate Christmas with them and also take a break from work. I was glad to get it too; I know Earl was too.

I had already known that my week would be different. Billy Ray had called me the week before to ask if I could work the dairy farm’s night shift all last week. The cows are milked twice a day. His job is the morning shift and Jo’s is at night but Jo was on vacation. I was willing to help out an extra few nights other than my normal milking schedule.

My schedule on the farm is simple: I milk every Wednesday, every other Friday, and every Saturday morning. That’s all that’s on my mind for the week ahead usually; that’s what I’m always prepared to do. I don’t have the many chores the rest have. I can come and go and I enjoy the work and I enjoy being on Billy Ray’s farm. Many friends and visitors stop by to visit and experience the “farm life.” It’s fun to see the cows and the milk and the calves and the activity the dairy holds. Kids are able to scratch a cow’s head or buy a glass jar of fresh milk. You can see the process of where the milk is transferred from the cow to the pumps, to the tank, then to the pasteurizer and finally to a bottle that’s placed in a walked-in boxed cooler. There are always smiles from friends and visitors while you are experiencing “farm life” or simply visiting. Work never stops around this place; a farmer’s work never stops…

My favorite animal on the hill at Billy Ray’s and Paula’s dairy is Oscar. My daughter Rilee would be upset if she knew I felt that way because she has a Jersey dairy cow named after her. All the dairy cows are named after family and friends of Billy Ray, Paula and their three children. They all have funny names or sweet names, and meaningful names. I milk cows named Tee, Aunt Betty, POWWOW (pronounced P-wow), Candy, Betsy, and many more.

Rilee, the cow, is sweet and calm but there is something about Oscar that I’m intrigued about. His size is probably the first appealing thing to notice about him. He is a young two-year-old stud bull Billy Ray purchased to breed his dairy cows. He’s a Brahma bull and he is beautiful. He weighs around two-thousand pounds and stands like a statue. His tan and dark brown features that are wrapped and twisted with shades of black cover his body. He has speckled white and black hair that crest his dangling neck. He stands tall and massive. I can’t look straight into his eyes when we’re at equal ground level. His presence is above me and his horns tower way above my head. Muscles stand out, popping through his legs and body, and he always stands at the front of the gate to be fed.

I have work to do and the girls need to get around him and through the gate so my timing of work and milking could be on time. It’s hard for my small-framed body to move him. I’ve learned, for me, that there are only two ways for me to be successful with him out of my way. I either open a gate that he is standing by and lure him out of the barn with feed or when it’s warm outside I can spray him with a water hose – Oscar hates water. He actually will get mad at me so I mostly just lure him with the big red bucket of feed. Oscar is gentle but I do not trust him. Not in a bad way: it’s a he-can-hurt-you-or-kill-you-accidentally way. I take caution when I hug him or scratch his head. I talk to him and I let my kids scratch his head. He’s a big reason of the dairy’s success. Billy Ray is proud of Oscar. Oscar does his job while we do ours too.

Billy Ray’s front pasture, which is in front of the dairy barn, is five acres fenced in. There are hay bales, feed tubs, and water troughs that scatter the field. This field holds his dairy cows waiting to bring a new baby to the farm. The cows are placed in the pasture sixty days before a calf is to be delivered. They are there to eat and rest and be calm. Billy Ray and Paula don’t want them far from their eyesight. They are watched closely daily throughout their resting time. If one is down or acting differently then they can be checked on within a walking distance quickly.

When time comes, it’s usually a simple delivery. The births are usually a happy moment. I’ve watched and helped Paula carry twins from a cow one blistering July afternoon. I remember I, unfortunately, had my shirt off from working on the milk tank pipes that sprayed milk all over me that certain day. The fluids from the calves’ mother as I’m carrying calves to the barn are sticky and hot against my stomach and chest. Paula was laughing and I was not. Each calf was heavy and slippery. Oscar’s genetics had produced a fine, healthy, beautiful baby; hell, that day there were two. That day was actually my first week to work on the dairy farm. It was just part-time work, but I knew that moment that there’s always something going on in a farmer’s life I didn’t know about.

A friend of Billy Ray’s pulled up to his house Christmas Eve as Billy Ray leaned up against a fence watching Flossie in the front field. He and Paula had been watching her all week because the record book notified that her sixty days of relaxing was coming to an end before the new shiny calf was prancing on their hill. His buddy Keith, who is a cattle farmer too, walked down to check on Flossie and address Billy Ray’s concerns. Billy Ray reached his hand inside the birth canal and felt of two hooves massively developed. His gut turned and he knew things were to get bad soon; his feelings quickly came to reality.

Delivering tools were brought in and Keith helped Billy Ray pull on the calf over and over. Snuffy, another friend, had shown up and he helped where needed too. The calf was pulled on more and its body was readjusted. The calf was still breathing but not budging because of the head being too large. Hope was slipping away from Billy Ray’s hands and heart; his chest beat faster but his work flow never panicked or stopped. He pulled and readjusted again and then again. He picked up his phone and called his veterinarian to come save the calf. The veterinarian showed up in quick time but it was too late. The calf was dead but Flossie was still alive. Dr. Randy told Billy Ray the only way to save Flossie was to cut the front left shoulder of the calf off and slide her out. This decision was hard on Billy Ray but he trusted what was advised. The surgery was successful and Flossie made it through it. The baby bull calf was beautiful and sleek. He had long droopy ears like his Daddy. His Daddy would have been proud.

I woke up Sunday morning to my phone ringing. Billy Ray was in Oxford delivering milk but had cows out in a pasture close to Tula. I put on my boots, blue jeans, shirt and left quickly. He had other things he needs to do but I don’t mind. The cows are already up from a friendly neighbor but I fixed the fence they tore down. I wasn’t supposed to work today. Saturday was my last day and I haven’t seen him other than that on Christmas.

And Christmas Day wasn’t pleasant. I had looked out his bedroom window Christmas morning to see Flossie laying out flat on her side. She was barely breathing and wasn’t moving. I called him over to the window to look. He then looked at Paula and asked if she would take the kids for a ride down the road. I grabbed my things and children and she did too. And we left the farm. We didn’t want to hear or see what he had to do.

After the cows were up Sunday morning and I fixed the fence, I retreated back to my cabin in Tula to cook out and meet Heather. We hung out all afternoon on the dock, and The Shack, and the kitchen pavilion outside the cabin. It was so nice just to sit and think and take in Tula and the pond and beauty. We got through eating and talking so we drove over to visit Billy Ray as he milked. He was in his steady mode of chores.

We all talked, laughed and listened to music as he worked. I helped him with a few chores as he told Heather the story of the baby bull and Flossie. He said it was hard to have to shoot her and to lose the baby calf. He said it was really hard being on Christmas Day; not how he wanted to spend his Christmas.

But that’s just it. That’s a farmer’s life, and the things you have to deal with on a farm.

Shane Brown

Shane Brown is a HottyToddy.com contributor and the son of noted author Larry Brown. Shane is an Oxford native with Yocona and Tula roots. Shane is a graduate of Mississippi State University. He has two children — Maddux, age 9, and Rilee, age 7 — and makes his home at “A Place Called Tula.” He can be reached at msushanebrown@yahoo.com.

Copyright Shane Brown, 2015.

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