Besides the farm my parents owned, my father also ran an implement business. He sold tractors, combines, disks, plows, and every other conceivable item used in the farming industry. Sales had been slow that year, and though Dad wanted to give bonuses to his employees to show appreciation for their loyalty and hard work, there just wasn’t anything more that could be squeezed out of the budget.
But the mechanic, Jed, who worked for my father, did have a small pasture behind his house that had grass growing about a foot deep. The neighbors had complained about it, and Jed had even been given a citation from the local authorities for not keeping the weeds down. This gave my dad an idea.
He asked Jed if, as a bonus, he would like to have a calf to eat down the grass. Dad suggested Jed raise the calf for meat for his family.
“I’m not sure the fence would hold him,” Jed answered. “And I don’t know the first thing about calves or fixing fence.”
“No problem,” my father answered. “I’ve got a son that can help there.”
That was where I featured in the story. I was the son. On a Saturday morning in early spring, my father picked out a one week old bull calf and told me to take it to Jed’s house. He handed me a bag of milk replacer and a calf bottle to take along as well. Dad also told me that I needed to help Jed get his pasture in shape. Since I had no idea what I was getting in to, I loaded up lots of fencing tools and materials.
When I arrived at Jed’s small acreage, I found a pasture overgrown with grass and weeds, and a fence that was almost nonexistent. I started by burning the pasture so new grass could grow. That took most of the morning because I didn’t dare let the fire get too big. I then worked all afternoon putting the fence together. Jed tried to help me, but when he said he didn’t know anything about fencing, he was telling the truth. He may have been a good mechanic, but he didn’t know one end of a fencing hammer from the other.
By milking time in the evening, the fence was ready. The calf, who had to spend most of the day tied up, was excited to regain his freedom. He tore around the pasture bucking, kicking, and snorting his pleasure. Jed named him Spunky. I taught Jed how to mix the milk, and he and his children were delighted when Spunky went after the bottle with great vigor and appreciation. After giving them some last minute pointers on raising a calf, I headed home to get my own chores done.
More than two years passed by, and I had totally forgotten about Spunky. I had graduated from high school, and was spending the fall doing mechanic work for my dad. I was upside down inside a big tractor when Jed approached me with a question.
“Um, I was wondering if you could tell me how old a calf has to be before you wean him from the bottle?”
I pulled myself out of the giant transmission and leaned against the tractor tire as I answered. “We usually wean them at about three months.”
Jed’s shocked expression was only matched by how white he turned as the blood drained from his face. “Oh, my heck!” he gasped.
The trauma in his eyes and voice suddenly brought the memory of Spunky back to my mind. “How old is this calf you want to wean?” I asked, afraid I already knew the answer.
Jed shrugged. “It’s that one you brought over to my house.”
The calf would be a full grown bull, and likely weigh over 2000 pounds. Now it was my turn to be astounded as my assumption was confirmed. “You haven’t weaned him yet?!”
Jed shook his head. “What should I do?”
“Well, I would suggest you wean him immediately!”
For the rest of the day, the image of Jed and his children feeding a bottle of milk to that huge bull kept replaying in my head. The next day, as Jed came dragging wearily in to work, I asked him how it went.
“Spunky bellowed until 2:00 in the morning. We thought he had finally settled down so we could go to sleep, when, suddenly, we heard a loud crash downstairs. We ran down there, and he had smashed in our back door and was standing in our kitchen angrily demanding his bottle!”
“What did you do?” I asked.
Jed threw up his hands in frustration. “Well, what the heck do you think we did? We gave him his bottle!”