On Friday, March 4th, our farm-ily changed in a wonderful, dramatic, and unplanned way.
Earlier that week, a colleague of Handsome’s told him about a little calf recently born in western Oklahoma during one of February’s worst ice storms. The calf, abandoned by an inexperienced mother, was discovered alive but partially frozen to ground. The rancher who rescued her brought her indoors to thaw out beneath blankets and in the warmth of a utility room. He and his family nursed her back to health for about three weeks, named her Scarlett for her pretty red coat, and fell hopelessly in love. Unfortunately, keeping her long term was untenable.
Fast forward to my husband hearing the heartstrings story, a gentle, chiding temptation relayed to me, one Mardi Gras party filled with upbeat declarations about raising a calf, and a tentative drive to western Oklahoma to evaluate the situation.
Here is the situation we found:
We both fell hopelessly in love with this fragile, trusting, beautiful little creature. We had already discussed all the logistics of keeping her and helping her convalesce, and we had made valiant efforts to adjust our expectations, to temper our sheer joy at meeting her for the first time. Her frostbite injuries were pretty severe, after all, and we were told clearly that she had no guarantees of longevity.
Our agreement was to do everything in our collective power to do two things: 1) Help her heal if possible and 2) Give her a fantastic quality of life at the Lazy W for every single day that she could live.
So we memorized the rancher’s warnings and instructions. We said our happy goodbyes and shook hands too many times. And we loaded up.
We drove home with tiny little Scarlett, unbridled, riding in the extended cab backseat of a pickup, cushioned by three quilts and a rubber mat beneath. Those few hours will live in our marital memory forever. Scarlett mostly napped, but occasionally she would stand to investigate her surrounding, snoot our shoulders a bit, sniff our necks, and look out the window. She did have one little poop accident, ha! But we were prepared, and it was not a big deal. When we stopped at a gas station about halfway home, Handsome lifted her out to see if she needed to stretch her legs. She wobbled around confidently in the grass and surprised a man nearby who was walking his Labrador.
When we got back to the farm and disembarked, Klaus saw her and lost his ever-lovin-mind. Rest assured that he was as gentle as we knew he would be. Scarlett met him willingly then wandered around the chicken coop and even gave a few jumps and skips after that long ride. We were ecstatic. I took that teeter totter frolic as a sign that she was happy to be here with us.
The next few days were a beautiful, effervescent adventure of farm-ily Love, pure and simple.
We mixed formula bottles and discussed with measured intensity the very most perfect temperature they should be and the very most perfect method we should use for achieving that temperature. We crafted little hay-and-blanket nests atop soft yoga mats (she slept in the garage near us for a few nights) and found new and improved ways to make her comfortable every day, depending on the changing weather. We watched and sanitized her wounds carefully and were terrified the first day on of them split open. We spent quiet time with her, sang to her, took photos of Every. Little. Thing. And texted each other things like, “She just pooped so much!” or “She’s awake and happy!” or “She just sucked on my hand so hard it cracked my knuckles!”
Handsome arranged one of our security cameras on her pen, and one day he checked on her remotely so many times I joked that he should have just stayed home and claimed Family Medical Leave Act, as if we had a newborn baby. Ha.
Speaking of my husband, I must credit him for doing so many of the difficult jobs to keep Scarlett healthy. He has given her the antibiotic injections and done the wound dressings. He has physically carried her in his arms, even as she has gained a considerable amount of weight (which is a big, happy victory, of course!). He has done the unnerving research and talked to vets and ranchers with similar experiences and wisdom to draw on. It has been this man’s ongoing, loving effort that has made Scarlett’s first month with us so thoroughly sound and well informed. I know that every effort is being made to help her, and I know we are making every decision day to day with Love at the center.
He also shares bottle duty once in a while.
Gradually, Scarlett has grown accustomed to our feeding time rituals and responds lusciously. She has grown so cozy with Klaus that she often milk-smears his great torso and snuzzles his face. Once she tried to nurse his German Shepherd snoot, which absolutely terrified him. Scarlett has explored the herb garden and rested with our earliest daffodils. She has listened to me read books aloud and done yoga with me in the clover on especially warm days. She has gained WEIGHT, as mentioned above. She watches the bachelors cruise past and investigates cats when they approach nervously. I have watched her placidly watching the sky so many times, it reminds me to do the same. Her outdoor habitat includes a partially enclosed wooden shelter filled with hay. When she is done eating or tired of playing, she calmly beelines straight “home.” One day we had her on the opposite side of that shared garden wall, and she beelined toward the space, aimed at her unseeable pen, which we took to mean she was done playing. She sleeps contentedly there and emerges at will to sit in the sun or, as she did this weekend, watch the moon wax on a clear night. She is her own person, and we love it.
One month. (Thirty four days, by the time I post this.) We might have only enjoyed a few days with her. Along the way any number of things could have brought on infection or pain so great we could not justify keeping her for ourselves. Or something else terrible. We have known all along that every day was borrowed, but we have been given a full, gorgeous month with this sweet baby, and we are so thankful.
There is so much to celebrate. Scarlett fills our farm with such a new dimension of innocence and Life Force, it’s miraculous. Her appetite is strong, allowing her to take on thousands of calories useful for healing and growing. She has remained infection-free despite so many open wounds. And she is bright, alert, curious about the world, and extravagantly affectionate. She appears, in every way we can perceive it, to be one hundred percent pain free. She even vocalizes happily!
About two weeks into her new Lazy W career, Scarlett moo’d! She moo’d a lovely moo. She has a deep, warm, resonant voice that totally caught me by surprise the first time I heard it. I texted my husband, updated my parents and siblings via group chat, and probably put in on Facebook, I don’t remember. It was so exciting to hear her musical voice just for a moment, and several times since then both Handsome and I have heard it and delighted in it.
Everything about having her here is a wonder and a delight, but there are still serious concerns. Scarlett’s frostbite injuries are healing, but as with any kind of healing that has meant a few steps forward and a few steps back. The very end of her pretty tail fell off, leaving plenty of the bone-in tail for us to embellish later with fly-swishing prosthetics. Her hooves have released in bits, causing her to relearn how to balance and walk. Her flesh is sloughing off sometimes, only to grow and close again. Most upsetting, part of one of her hind legs fell off in her sleep, which we certainly knew could happen based on the hardest line of frostbite, and we believe the same will happen with the other hind leg. But true to her spectacular survival form, Scarlett is adapting quickly. She is learning how to pivot on her bandaged hoofless leg and take careful steps, still able to stand for her bottles and navigate the grassy enclosure on her own. We do help her when she seems to need it but know that the more she does for herself, the better.
For all of these physical affects that could be absolutely horrifying, we remain grateful. She in infection free, seemingly comfortable, playful, alert and curious, ravenously hungry, and just plain sweet and scrumptious.
We are overwhelmed by all the Love flowing through this experience. We still cannot predict how much time we will have with her, but gosh our mission remains clear: To help her heal as much as possible and to give her the best possible life experience, day in and day out, for as long as we have her.
I feel like it’s going to be a long, magical life.
We want to thank all of our friends and family for praying for her. We believe in antibiotics and in focused medical care and in the actual power of Love and affection. We believe in good nutrition and sunshine and rest to heal any physical creature. Everything counts. But prayer binds it all together and amplifies every human effort. I know in my bones that prayer has tapped into Scarlett’s will to live and sparked her already lovely disposition to survive in her own beautiful way.
A dear friend of our ours said,
“I’ve never prayed for a calf, but I will.”