Sandy Parker shortened his hold on Gretchen’s lead rope and waited tensely. There were over twenty purebred Hereford heifers in the class that he had entered in this year’s 4-H competition at the state fair. The judges were looking carefully at each animal. Would they see faults that Sandy had overlooked because of his pride in the calf?
Sandy remembered when he and his father had gone to check the cattle after a bad storm and found Bess lying dead, her newborn calf still standing beside her.
Sandy and his father caught the calf, put her into the back of their pickup, and took her back to the barn.
“Bess was one of our best cows,” his father had said as they drove back to the barn. “Her calf was sired by Mr. McCormick’s champion bull, Emperor, so she should make a good 4-H project calf, if you want her, Sandy.”
“If I want her, Dad? Of course, I want her!”
After they had unloaded the calf and secured her in a stall, Sandy went to the house for some milk. When he returned, the calf was standing in the far corner of the stall. She lifted her head to look at him. He took the bucket over and set it on the straw at her feet. Sandy placed his left arm around her neck and put the fingers of his right hand into her mouth. She began to suck immediately. With the palm of his hand over her nose, he slowly began to lower her head into the bucket. The calf continued to suck his fingers until her nose was in the milk. At the first taste of the warm liquid, she began to suck harder. Sandy kept his fingers in her mouth a little longer while she drank. Slowly he removed them. She drank for a moment, then raised her head. Sandy repeated the process twice more before the calf’s hunger was satisfied. Then she lay down and was soon asleep.
As Sandy and his father walked to the house that evening, Dad asked, “Have you thought of a name for the calf, Sandy?”
“Yes, Dad. I thought I’d call her Gretchen.”
That night Sandy’s sleep was filled with dreams of all the awards Gretchen would win at the county and state fairs. He thought that she was the finest calf that he had ever seen.
When Sandy woke up early the next morning, the first thing he thought about was Gretchen. He dressed hurriedly and raced down to the barn, where his father was already milking the cows. Sandy went into Gretchen’s stall and saw her lying on the straw. The calf didn’t even lift her head to look at him.
“Dad!” Sandy called. “Something’s wrong with Gretchen.”
His father hurried over and knelt beside the animal. A worried frown spread over his face. “It looks like pneumonia, Sandy.”
“Will she die, Dad?”
“I don’t know, Sandy. Get some milk, and see if she’ll take any. I’ll call Dr. Taylor to see if he can come over and examine her.”
Dr. Taylor made the Parkers his first stop that day. “Hear you lost Bess in that storm the other night,” he said as he got out of his truck.
“Yes, but it’s her calf that we’re worried about now,” Mr. Parker told the veterinarian. “Sandy is trying to raise her for a 4-H project, but it looks like she has pneumonia.”
“Well, let’s have a look at her.” Dr. Taylor followed Mr. Parker into the barn.
Sandy was waiting outside Gretchen’s stall for them. “She wouldn’t take any milk this morning,” he told Dr. Taylor.
The doctor took her temperature. “It’s a hundred six—that’s pretty high.” The veterinarian put his stethoscope to the calf’s chest and listened to her lungs.
“Do you think she has a chance?” Sandy asked.
“There’s always hope, Sandy. We’ll do our best. You’ll have to drench-feed her if she won’t eat on her own. I want you to feed her every four hours. I’ll give her a shot and hope that that will bring her out of it. I’ll stop back in a couple of days and see how she is.”
After Dr. Taylor left, Sandy prepared the milk to drench-feed the calf. He filled one of his father’s drenching syringes with warm milk, then got the wobbly calf to her feet. Sandy pushed the end of the syringe far back into Gretchen’s mouth, then gently pushed on the plunger and released a small amount of milk. Gretchen swallowed the milk with difficulty. Sandy repeated the process until the syringe was empty. It was slow work.
Four times that day Sandy drench-fed Gretchen, but she didn’t seem to get any better. When he took the calf’s temperature that night, it was 106.4° F. It was going up, not down! “I don’t know what else to do for you, girl,” Sandy murmured as he gently stroked the calf’s forehead.
The next morning Sandy anxiously counted the endless seconds as he took Gretchen’s temperature, then held the thermometer up to the light and read it. “Dad! Dad! It’s down. Her temperature is only a hundred and three!”
“Good,” replied his father. “Now let’s see if she’ll eat for you.”
Sandy was jolted back to the present by the announcer’s voice. The winner of the state 4-H class for heifers this year is Beck’s Hi-Wind Folly, owned by Miss Patty Beck.”
Sandy’s heart sank. He had paid careful attention to all the details that go into making a fine show animal. He had trimmed and polished Gretchen’s hooves, brushed her, bathed her, and brushed her again until she shone like the sun. She had taken top honors in all the local competitions. He’d worked so hard, come so far …
“Second place this year is Parker’s Gretchen.” Sandy’s head jerked up. He had almost missed his call. “We did it, Gretchen!” he whispered excitedly. “Second place in the whole state, in a class of over twenty top heifers!” Sandy seemed to walk on air as he led Gretchen to receive their award.
Sandy’s parents were waiting for him when he led Gretchen back to the stabling area. “We’re very proud of you and Gretchen, Sandy,” Dad said.
And Sandy could see the pride in their eyes. “Thanks, Dad,” he replied. “At first I was disappointed that we didn’t get the blue ribbon. But Gretchen is young yet. Maybe next year. …”