Taking Our Calves on the Road


For the Monitor

Published: 08-26-2023 11:00 AM

On the first day of summer camp here at Miles Smith Farm, the kids hardly knew a hoof from a square knot. They didn’t want to get their boots dirty, and some swatted non-stop at the horse flies and no-see-ums. Then they met their calves: Peaches, Rosemary, Emily Blunt, and the rest of the 14 calves that we assigned to campers. Titan, a headstrong Belted Galloway, was feisty and hard to handle, so we decided not to give him to a child. By the end of the week-long day camp session, the kids were no longer afraid of manure or insects. What with washing, feeding, and romping, kids and calves variously (and cheerfully) got dirty, wet, and tired. Many of them will return next year for another dose of “agri-therapy.”

Last week we took eight of those summer camp calves and Curious Bleu, an 11-year-old Scottish Highland steer, to the Agriculture Fair on Martha’s Vineyard, where eight island 4H members took over caring for the calves, including Titan. By then, he had started to consider being more chill. He still planted his feet and leaned back when Maddie, his handler for the fair, tried to lead him. But with specific instruction, Maddie got him to obey.

On Martha’s Vineyard, the calves needed special attention when they got what farmers call “shipping fever” -- the bovine equivalent of a human catching a cold after a long and strenuous trip. Twice a day, the kids held the calves and – carefully supervised -- injected the calves with needles. Talk about pre-vet training!

Besides feeding, medicating, and grooming, the kids got to sit on patient Curious Bleu as he stood with a hat on in his stall. Curious Bleu loved the attention and the occasional alfalfa cube that visitors fed him.

The calves recovered, and the show went on. On Friday, New Hampshire farmer and pulling-horse judge Bob Boynton, judged the youngsters on their showmanship, handling skills, and the cleanliness of their animals. Then the winners of each class competed against each other. The winner was Leona, the handler of Emily Blunt. Emily’s namesake would be proud.

With the serious business out of the way, the kids dressed up their calves on Sunday. Titan was calm enough to be dressed as a farmer with a flannel shirt and straw hat, while his handler, Maddie, dressed as a cow. Another calf, named Mac, was a rabbit with huge ears, and Emily Blunt was dressed like Barbie. The kids, even the boys, loved dressing up their calves, and I loved seeing the kids’ smiles as the audience cheered for their favorites.

The calves are all back in New Hampshire, healed of their bovine “colds” and enjoying the tail-end of summer. During this long, cold winter, I’ll be sustained by the joy on the kids’ faces, which was manna for my soul. It’s true: Kids + Calves = Joy


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Carole is co-owner of Miles Smith Farm (www.milessmithfarm.com) at Loudon, N.H., where she raises beef and shares the joys of her Farm with kids and adults. She can be reached at carole@soulecoaching.com. Join Carole for a reading from her second book, “Yes, I Name Them,” at Gibson’s Bookstore in Concord, N.H., on Tuesday, Sept. 12, at 6:30 p.m.