Your Favorite Story: The Case of the Heavy Boots

As stated previously, chasing cows is not only a big deal but a way of life at the Kopperud Farm. Like a doctor who is on call, you have to be completely ready for any situation at any time even from a dead sleep. Ya know, one of us really should have been a doctor… Oh wait! I crack myself up… Anyway, my point is,  many times you can be awakened in the early morning hours and you have to chase cows. No ifs, ands, or buts about it. Get up and GO! You have 2 seconds to get dressed in the proper attire before you are expected to be miles away from the house and round up those thousand pound animals and make them go where you want them to go.

I really shouldn’t call it chasing cows when really it’s rounding up the cows and directing them where you want them to go. In the Kopperud family, we have a system that we follow. If you married into the family be prepared to get yelled at for being in the way at least for the first few times you join us. After that, you can do it in your sleep.

When I was around 10 years old, I had the wonderful privilege of being the only person home when the cows broke down the fence. This was before cell phones so without warning my Dad came bursting into the house and said “Let’s go! Cows are out and they’re headed to the tar road!” Sensing my father’s intensity I got up and threw on some old blue and white coveralls. Then I headed for the front porch to put my boots on. “Come on! What’s taking you so long?!” my father called out. “I can’t find my boots!” I yelled back. “Just put something on and let’s go!” The only boots that were available were a spare pair of my dad’s boots. He had several pairs so I slipped my feet into his boots and ran out the door. On my way up the hill through the tree’s and on my way down the gravel drive way I realized my choice in footwear was going to be a problem. Not only were his boots ginormous but I really couldn’t move very fast with their weight holding me down. “Hurry up!” my dad called out again. I could see him out in the field in waist high grass. My eyes went crossed. Not only was I doing my best to run in his giant boots, but I would have to run fast in waist high grass. I stood there wondering if I dare tell my dad, whose temper was already high, that I needed to run back to the house to change my shoes. “What are you doing just standing there? Let’s GO!” And then I knew what I had to do, I ran fast and hard through the waist high grass. I jumped and lifted my knees as high as I could so I wouldn’t trip on the grass. My boots were weighing me down. I did my best to keep up with my dad. I tried to stay right behind him so I could run in the grass he already knocked down. Then, the tall grass disappeared to reveal a small ravine. Dad leaped over the ravine like a graceful gazelle.  The ravine was only around 2 feet wide so under normal circumstances, this jump wouldn’t have fazed me, but since my legs were already feeling like lead weights from running in the boots, this small jump looked like the Grand Canyon. I looked up at my dad who was standing on the other bank, “Come on jump! I need you over here. What’s the matter with you? Jump!”

I didn’t want to argue with him because he was already frustrated that the cows broke down the fence that he would no doubt spend the rest of the day mending. AND to rub salt into the wound, his sons weren’t home to help him. All that was left was his little pip-squeak redhead.

I looked at him, and then back at the rustling water in front of me. “Okay Jesus, please help me make it to the other side.” I had full faith that I was going to make it. I took a few steps back so I could get a running start… “I can do this, I can do this”… step, step, JUMP! I jumped with all of my might. I threw my arms out to my sides like superman, spread eagle, as hard as my little body could handle and closed my eyes. I felt my feet lift off the ground. A small smile crossed my face and I knew I could make it. Just as soon as I thought “I’m going to make it” I felt my small feet hit the inside top of Dad’s boots. My lift off came to an abrupt halt. My face changed from the sweet bliss of a freeing smile to a look of terror. My body could make it to the other side, but not as long as those boots were attached to my feet. I had just enough momentum to make the toe’s of the boots slowly roll forward and shift. So there I was, the small bubbling water beneath me, mid air, and my face fast approaching the west bank of the ravine. “This isn’t going to be good” I thought to myself. Then, WHAM! I did a face plant straight into the other bank. From the waist down I was soaked in water. “Get up, Joanna, Get up! You have to chase cows. Dad’s already frustrated. Get up!” I thought to myself. It took all of my strength to stand up. When I got to the point where I had shaken the sense back into myself after the shock, I looked around for my dad. I thought for sure he would be angry at me for getting all wet. After all, this meant I would move slower with the water weight added to my already heavy load. I looked around but I couldn’t find my dad. I could see the cows grazing in the neighbors bean field, but my dad was nowhere in sight. Then, I heard him. He was breathing strangely and gasping for air. I saw some flattened grass on the edge of the field and then I heard his hysterical laughter. He was laughing so hard he couldn’t breathe. I walked over and stood next to him as tears rand down his face, he said, “THAT is the funniest thing I have ever seen!”

To this day, whenever we talk about chasing cows, this is the story my dad tells. If you ask him about it, he will start laughing and crying all at the same time. So, there you have it dad. I wrote my side of “Your Favorite Story.”

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The end of my favorite season…

As I close my eyes, I feel the cool air on my face in the basement of the old barn. I remember sitting on the old wooden fence  just waiting for my favorite spring activity to begin. I try to keep warm as the smell of hay and animals fills the air. “Shhh… you kids have to be quiet and sit still” my mother whispers, both of those things not easy for 4 children under the age of 10 especially on this cold evening. I hear the soft moans of the cows and the vicious scratching the dogs are making on the barn door. They are not allowed in for this wonderful event. We wait and wait for the glorious calf to emerge from his mother. The miracle of child birth is about to begin. I still remember the smells: the straw my dad was throwing around the pen to keep the new born calf warm, the cows, and the old barn. Takes me back to those wonderful days of spring time on the farm…

I remember my dad spending so many cold days and nights in the barn tending to his “ladies”. Most of it was just sitting on the fence trying to be quiet and stay out of the way. If we had to leave the farm, he was always headed right back down to the barn when we got home. If we wanted to see him, we had to go to the barn. I remember the first time I ever saw a cows water break I was in my 20’s “EW I didn’t know that happened!” To which my dad replied, “I left you kids in the house until after the water broke so you wouldn’t get so restless waiting for the calf to come out.” 

My dad has a small herd of Red Angus Cross ladies that he pays special attention to every spring. To this day, I look forward to my weekly phone call with the “calving updates”. “How many did you have this week dad?” Now, it’s getting more exciting as I not only get his calving update I get my brothers and sisters as well. The stories will never get old. There’s always a new and exciting story about having to “pull the calf”, “stupid cow keeps jumping over the fence to get away from her calf”, “that one can never find her calf”, “oh I think this might be her last year calving”, or my personal favorite “have to perform a C- section. Want to help?”  (This experience will be another blog post entirely)

At one point in time my dad decided my brother needed to own some of his own cattle when we were younger. A small herd of baby dairy calves was purchased and Matt started on his quest. One of the best things about baby calves: they will suck on anything. I remember this particular instance my siblings and I decided it would be a fun game if we all tried to get a calf on each of our fingers.  While the 3 older siblings were having a ball tempting the babies with our wiggling fingers, no one was watching my baby sister. She thought the game would be fun too! She was old enough to understand the game; however, she was not physically large enough to participate. the older kids were all having a ball stealing each other’s calves from the other because there weren’t enough for all of us and then we heard it, a loud blood curdling scream from the corner of the large calf pen escaped my sisters lips. My head jerked to the side to look at the tiny creature it came from. As I looked closer I realized I couldn’t see her arm… Only one baby calf had decided to suck on her fingers. However, she was too small and the calf decided her fingers were not pleasurable enough for its “needs”. He had sucked her entire hand, forearm, and elbow down its throat. All the way up to her tiny little shoulder! OOPS! My brothers raced over to her rescue and yanked her arm out of the calf’s mouth. She was fine. Just a little shook up. Definitely a story her children will be hearing!

I have so many fond memories from the years of calving season. I remember being woken up early in the morning to my mom’s voice saying, “another calf is being born, get out to the barn if you want to watch!” I also remember coming downstairs for breakfast only to see a little baby calf on the living room floor shivering from cold covered in my mom’s old rugs and blankets. I remember racing down to the “calf huts” to help bottle feed the calves whose mom’s abandoned them or died during delivery. I remember getting to the basement of the barn and trying to avoid all the “mud” so I could get to the cattle pen and see the newest member of our herd. I remember running so fast to get to the basement of the barn that I fell down the steep steps, only to get into trouble for making too much noise and spooking the cow.

These little creatures were the instruments used in shaping my young life of responsibility. A very wise man once said to me “Think of it like this, you’re holding $200 in your hand. If this baby isn’t taken care of and dies, the money is gone too” Those are pretty profound words for a 5 year old to hear. The long hours spent working to keep each little calf alive was exactly what I needed in my young life. I’m thankful for the opportunities that I had growing up on the small farm. They have shaped me into the responsible woman I am today!

The calf that was born on our wedding day. Unfortunately, the momma wouldn’t let us get closer than this.