It was time to tend to the cows, all one hundred and thirty of them. Before leaving for the rest of the day, one of the head researchers gave us the chant about what lay in store for me and my two co-workers that day. "Before you guys get started, make sure you scrub down the walls in the milking parlor, they are covered with shit and haven't been cleaned sence the end of the last semester. Oh yeah, when you feed the calves today, hang around and make sure that they all eat. Number 1868 wasn't eating and it died last night. I just wanted to let you guys know." I really didn't think too much of it at that point, one less bucket of milk replacer (powdered milk especially for calves) to mix up.
Calf feeding is my favorite chore at the dairy farm. It's not too messy; unlike milking the cows, where one tends to get pissed and shat on quite frequently, and It's not a potentially life endangering task, like feeding the bulls. They are so cute, the calves the are. They are a lot more inquisitive than cows and will usually run right up to you and lick you, instead of fleeing like full grown cows, or attempting to kill you like a bull would. They have tiny little cow heads and giant golf ball sized black colored eyes that reflect and shimmer like a pan of freshly drained motor oil. They are sort of real-life super deformed cattle.
After cleaning up the horribly shit-encrusted walls in the milking parlor, I sauntered on over to the calf barn and began mixing up the powdered milk. I slowly moseyed past several calves in little caged pens, towards the rear of the barn, where all the supplies are kept. There is a tiny room with a busted up refrigerator, a few sinks, and a table. Every surface in this room is covered with flies, they love the calf barn. Every time I go to pick something up from off of a table, a faint wooshing sound of hundreds of flies flapping their wings and taking off en masse fills my ears, like the sound of crinkling paper. Extremely disgusting. I opened a nearby door and a few windows to shoo some of the flies away and got started.
I carefully measured out the proper amount of dried powdery crap and dumped it into a large thermos barrel thingy. Using a garden hose, I filled it all the way up with warm water, about thirteen gallons worth. Twenty or so dead flies floated to the top of the fully mixed solution, even more disgusting. Fumbling around with a rectangular tupperware container, I pulled out a scale (and more dead flies) and began preparing the milk in weighed amounts as individually indicated for each calf on a nearby whiteboard. One of my co-workers, who would be running the milk to and from the calves popped in to remind me that "1886 is dead, don't forget to skip that one". I asked, "Is it just lying there or...", he interrupted, "Nah, its cage is empty, but its paperwork is still there." Looking in the direction of the open door, he added "There it is right there". Sure enough, the ass end of a tiny emaciated calf was laying there on its side next to a small feed silo, with the bright yellow ear tag in its left ear sticking up and blowing in the wind. It looked like it was sleeping. "Oh yeah," I muttered.
After sharing out all of the milk to the proper calves, I stuck around for a few more minutes to ensure that they all ate. Of course I found it necessary to wander outside to the back of the barn to check out the dead calf. There it lay with little bits of straw bedding still stuck in its black and white fur. It was dead, quite dead. Its mouth was hanging unnaturally open, exposing its pearly white teeth that clashed with its dark grey gums. The eyes were closed and sunken or smashed in with small traces of pus gathering on its shut eyelids. Flies were buzzing all around its carcass, occasionally landing and feasting on the pus around the eyes. A cold chill ran up my back. "This calf is dead", I thought. I could not move, I just stood there looking at it, it was kinda sad. It reminded me of one those WWII photographs of dead European children.
My other co-worker popped up behind me to let me know that all the calves were done eating. I quickly got to fetching the empty (yet still buzzing with flies) buckets from the remaining pens, the mental image of this cute little calf, now dead, has been permanently etched into my memory.
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