When my old friend Joe was a young man, he worked as a cattle wrangler on a ranch that raised polled Herefords. He was a strong and brash 24 year old who always wore western clothes, pointy riding boots, and a stained Stetson hat. Well, one day a spindly little dogie got herself in a mucky mess. Joe knew this little orphaned calf personally. Something had happened to her momma shortly after being born. So, to keep the tiny newborn calf alive, the ranch manager assigned Joe to nurse it in the calf barn with a big thick plastic bottle of cows milk mixed with calf vitamin supplements. The calf barely had an appetite and did not run around and play, just slept and bawled for her mother.
Joe had never felt any special feelings for cattle. To him, they were just a money crop, a daily nuisance, and a whole lot of work. At first he resented the extra chore of having to play mother to a confused, hopeless little crimson and white splotched dogie. He would dutifully pick it up and put it on a bench, hold its head up with one hand while lowering the bottle of milk to the calf’s mouth with his other. He groused at it, saying things like, “Come on ya little runt! Eat! Gotta’ get some meat on yore bones or yer not gonna make it. I don’t care what you do. I’m no momma cow. But the boss’ll be mad at me if you don’t at least try to eat.”
To his surprise, after a couple of weeks struggle, Joe began having unwanted feelings for the calf. It had not grown as much as it should have. He felt sorry for it in a deeper way than he had ever expected to feel about a bovine animal. He started trying baby talk with a soft voice to coax the calf to eat more. He made a little leash out of twine and started leading it around the barn after feeding it. He warmly looking forward to his time with the growing calf.
He named it Fern, because of the splay of dark color on its fore head that slightly resembled the silhouette of a fern frond. After a month, Fern was starting to eat handfuls of grass Joe brought her, so the rancher released the healthy dogie into his main herd.
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