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Taking care of orphaned calf a group effort

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Norman the cow is now living with Daily Journal columnist Doug Skinner.
Norman the cow is now living with Daily Journal columnist Doug Skinner. SUBMITTED PHOTO

Norman the cow is now living with Daily Journal columnist Doug Skinner.
Norman the cow is now living with Daily Journal columnist Doug Skinner. SUBMITTED PHOTO

Norman the cow is now living with Daily Journal columnist Doug Skinner.
Norman the cow is now living with Daily Journal columnist Doug Skinner. SUBMITTED PHOTO

You know, things don’t always turn out as we planned, but then that’s life, isn’t it?

For instance, 25 years ago I wanted to get a farm and raise buffalo. That’s right, buffalo, the horned and curly-haired symbol of the wild and wooly West. But common sense, that old nemesis that torpedoes most of our youthful aspirations, prevailed.

So I lowered my goals and decided I would raise another icon of the West, Longhorn cattle. But marriage, kids, baseball, softball, school functions and all the other “distractions” that go with the aforementioned sank that idea.

Finally, the wife and I are empty nesters, and I want to raise chickens. You know, organic eggs and a cock-a-doodle-doo-every-morning-kind-of-thing. But “noooo,” as the wife reminded me that she would be the one most likely in charge of their care. An unfair statement to say the least, but in the atmosphere of keeping marital harmony, I let it pass.

That brings us to Norman.

I first laid eyes on Norman a few weeks ago when a group of us were attending a hunting dog contest in Morgan County. As the caravan of cars drove though a snow-covered pasture as rough as a minefield, I saw a forlorn calf, maybe 3 months old. Both the temperature and the wind speed were in the low teens.

The calf, then unnamed, was standing alone in the field, exposed to the bitter wind chill and ostracized from the rest of the herd. Its white head seemed too small for its body, and its black belly was equally swelled out of proportion. It appeared to be near death.

Sometimes you just know what you have to do, and I knew I wasn’t leaving without that calf. As others watched the hunt contest, I went to check on the calf. Later, after the hunt, as others bragged about this dog or that dog, I was on the phone to my wife, Ann.

“Hello,” she said.

“Look, we’re not in any trouble, OK?”

“OK,” she replied.

“And I’m not in any trouble either, OK?” I said, “but there is this calf down here, and it’s twin and mother died and it’s just hanging on. I don’t want it to be here any longer than it has to be. The farmer has agreed to sell her to me, and I’m not leaving without her.”

It was well after dark when my wife, by herself, hooked up the goose-neck trailer at home. In less than an hour myself and another hunter, Ted, were trying in vain to help her negotiate the 24-foot trailer up an icy, rutted, convoluted lane. It was to no avail, and we had to scuttle the plan until the next day. It would be light then, and we could use a smaller trailer.

By now the calf’s story had taken on a life of its own. My son, who works part time at Tractor Supply, called to see what we needed in the way of feed and medicine. He suggested the name Norman, taken from the calf in the Billy Crystal movie “City Slickers.” Others offered help and also suggested names, but Norman it was.

The next two days saw only futile efforts as she exhibited just enough energy and more than enough wits to escape my lasso. That’s right, she. It turns out Norman was of the female persuasion. She head dodged me, scurried over frozen and rutted ground that screamed “broken ankle,” and zigged every time I zagged.

But I was persistent as I dreamed how I would promote her, how I could become a gazillionaire if I could market her just right. This was my Forrest Gump moment, and they come only once in a lifetime.

I would write about her and she would become a celebrity, showing up at groundbreakings, leading the Center Grove Trojans onto the football field. The possibilities were endless. We might even be on the cover of Rolling Stone. But I still needed to get her home.

Reality sunk in as I also sunk into cow dodo nearly up to my knees (cow dodo has a lower freezing point, a chemical phenomenon that I feel compelled to share), was nearly kicked by a large cow as Norman ducked for the refuge of her large meaty legs and almost went headlong into an electric fence. It got to the point I was unsure whether I should feel sorry for Norman or vice versa. Score: Norman 2, Doc zero.

Three days later, I spent time mending fences (real fences) and fixed an area where she can come and go at will from the barn to munch on grass, protected from the horses and dogs. Near dark, the farmer and his two ranch hands arrived with Norman in tow.

According to them, and you can believe them or not, they simply walked into the feed lot and put a rope around her, led out and placed her in a camper shell affixed to a pickup truck. As for me, I don’t believe them.

Once here, they led her to an already prepared stall, and as she passed I used my veterinary prowess and gave an injection for intestinal parasites. She was given fresh hay, which was readily accepted.

Her thin legs and bloated belly were testimony to her fragile state. At the most she weighed 150 pounds. Now that she was home, I had to hatch a plan to not just save her life, but to keep her here.

I summoned up Mark Twain’s white-wash-painting-huckster Tom Sawyer as my coach in this situation. In front of the family, at the supper table, I placed my thumbs and fingers in my waistband and hitched up my pants as I extolled the virtues of raising her up for profit.

I suggested we show her at the county fair, and then sell her for a profit. Or maybe we could just raise her to 800 pounds and butcher her, saving some meat for us and selling the rest. Knowing there was probably a law somewhere that stated once an animal is named, you can’t eat it, I kept pressing for the opposite of what I really wanted.

I even argued to call her “T-Bone” or “Rib-Eye.” When I found an “Eat More Chicken” sign on her stall and had threats of a SaveNorman.org campaign, I knew my goal had been accomplished.

During her first night in a nice warm barn, she munched on fresh, clean hay and learning about grain food. Norman has become a family project so I will probably have to stand in line.

Chickens? Sure I still want them, and I have a plan.

“Hello,” my wife says on her end of the phone.

“Look, we’re not in any trouble, OK?” I will say.

“OK,” will be her standard reply.

“ …but I came across these cold, hungry chickens down here in the country and I’m afraid for them,” I plead.

“Let them cross the road.”

Dang, she’s on to me.

Doug Skinner is a semi-retired veterinarian who lives in the Center Grove area.

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