by Karan Henley Haugh
It was a normal spring and the cows were bearing their progeny without concern. Each cow which had been artificially inseminated or mated by the clean-up bull, a monstrous beast mounting the cows in the serene autumn days. Now it was spring and the birth of the calves was uneventful as expected except for the birth of a calf and a free martin or twin as they are called.
Which one would be the free martin would be the smaller or less promising of the calves. This calf would be either put on another cow which lost her calf, bottle feed till it was old enough to survive on its own, or sold for veal. Her husband had decided on the latter. But his wife was outraged at the thought of turning a beautiful calf into prime beef especially at its early age.
She begged and begged to be able to raise the free martin by bottle feeding it and finally although a hard willed man set in his ways, he succumbed to her. She did not know why or how, since he almost never went her way and she felt herself generally to be a servant of his will. But one evening, he showed up with a bottle of milk fresh from the nearby dairy. He showed her how to bottle feed the little thing and she undertook to keep it alive to be able to enjoy some kind of youth and adulthood, maybe to be judged suitable to be kept in the herd by the end of fall, when so many, as he put it, were sent off to McDonald’s.
On the hay she fed and caressed the baby calf which she called Freedom. The calf looked up at her with her soft brown eyes. It was as though she realized how her life had been saved. It was as though she appreciated all the care that was taken to keep her alive. She gratefully drank her milk until it was all gone. The woman petted her tenderly, calling her by her name, Freedom. And it was just as though the calf realized her name and the importance of it. She regarded the woman with an understanding in her eyes as though she realized the important decision made to keep her alive.
The time progressed and with it week by week Freedom grew and developed. Before much longer she was able to be set free in the herd to manage for herself, feeding herself on the field grass and the hay in large bales which he moved out to them in the fields and the square bales of hay and alfalfa which he loosened from their orange cords and threw down from the concrete walkway into the barnyard.
She always looked for Freedom who had a distinctive circle on her brown Hereford head. She called to her and Freedom would always look up with recognition and a shine, it seemed, in her eyes. The woman was hoping that she would turn out to be considered fit to join the herd, to not be sent off to the meat market by the end of fall. But as it turned out, her husband had made arrangements to sell her to a family who was interested in a farmraised cow for beef.
She was distraught by the thought that all the care and attention and love which she had shown this animal would be lost, that Freedom in effect would not be free. It was on a weekend that the family came with a trailor and took their beef. She talked with the couple. They seemed like very nice people, the kind of people who wouldn’t cut up Freedom into meat. But that was, after all, what they bought her for–to provide a wholesome source of meat since they knew that her husband did not give the cows any chemicals to spur growth in his animals. To her mind, Freedom was about to be turned into steaks and hamburgers and there was nothing she could do to prevent that.
It so happened that she was cooking lunch one day when she got a call. It was from the woman who had bought Freedom. She spoke very admirably of the cow and said how it seemed so very gentle as though it had had considerable human contact. The woman told her that Freedom had been raised as a free martin and had been bottle fed by her and cared for by her. The owner told her that she could sense this was the case. Freedom was so gentle, so wonderful, that the family could not go along with their original plan. As it turned out, they had decided to keep Freedom out on their extensive pasture. Freedom had in fact become their pet.