farming lesson #5: a day at the calf nursery

farming lesson #5: a day at the calf nursery

My series on agriculture is coming to an end. I started off writing about the fruits of the Spirit, on letting our fields lie fallow, then on what seeds taught me about seeing prophetically and finally, on how the metaphor of grafting should shape a Christian perspective of our Jewish heritage. All quite plant-centric.

Last week, however, Mom contacted one of her farmer friends to see if I could shadow him for a day. We thought that spending a day at an actual farm would be an appropriate way to wrap up this series on farming.

Instead of sitting in front of a laptop screen, I wanted to smell the rain-soaked dirt, touch live animal hide.

So, early Monday morning, I jammed my socked feet into knee-high boots and marched purposefully towards a barn of young cows.

Ken and Joy Hoffman were kind enough to let me tag along for the day, as they tended to their calf nursery and field of crops (wheat, soybean and corn). Strawberry season had just ended.

The ground was ready to absorb the nutrients of dead crops, only to bring forth life again the next season.

Meanwhile, the Hoffmans had just accepted a truckload of newborn calves, who needed to be weaned off milk onto the normal feed of dried corn and nutritional pellets.

I was greeted with a cacophony of low moos and the whirring fans working hard to circulate the stale air of the previous night. The young’uns were crying out for their morning milk.

Or at least most of them were.

Then, I saw a pair of skinny legs sticking out from behind the stall. They belonged to a calf who was lying down, not standing up as the rest of his eager friends were.

Ken picked him up with strong and sturdy hands, hoisting him to his wobbly feet.

“This one won’t eat,” his face creased in a look of concern, “We just can’t get him to want the milk.”

I studied the calf’s face. His sickly body hung limp and his face registered apathy. He didn’t want the warm, frothy milk in his pail – but why?

Looking into his dull, glassy eyes, it was almost like seeing a reflection in a mirror for the state of our souls. Our necks crane over what we need the most, and we won’t drink. We won’t do what will save our very soul and so, we stare, lifeless. We starve ourselves to death.

“As they say, hunger is health.”

Joy came up from behind, her words resonating with my unspoken thoughts.

“We treat the ones with diarrhoea with special medicine, but we’re most worried about those with no appetite because they have to want to eat.”

There are all sorts of techniques to get the weak calves to eat. Some needed you to hold the pail up for them to drink. Others wouldn’t touch the milk unless there was a floating nipple on its surface.

I bottle-fed one. He latched on and sucked strong on every last drop. I held on tight, ravenous hunger straining to lurch the bottle out of my hands.

What would be the metric of our spiritual health?

If hunger is health, then could we gauge our spiritual health based on how hungry we are for the things of the Kingdom?

Do I crave to see His truth released like water from a dam? For the poor and oppressed to be set free? For healing and justice and compassion and all these abstract concepts to actually take form on this earth?

I know I should be. And sometimes, I do catch glimpses of that craving. When I’m immersed in heavenly worship, lost in a book about a passionate missionary, or face to face with idol temples that peppered the little village in China.

But, now, more than ever, I want to be consumed with a hunger like that.

Waking up with all the bagels and coffee I need to stave my hunger, I yearn to yearn.

Ken is intubating the sickly calf, feeding a plastic tube down one of his four stomachs. This is the only way he will live, so we feed him what he needs but doesn’t want. At least, not yet.

The hope is that when he senses strength returning, so will his appetite. Then, he will stand on his own four legs and drink the milk from the pail.

This process of intubation to trigger hunger is useful for me. It means I wake up each morning and feed on what I know is good for me. I read the Word. Make a raspberry-kefir smoothie. I pray words as authentically as I can: Jesus, I need you. 

Day by day, I trust I will get stronger. This practice will stir up hunger. I will desire what is good, and will be satisfied.

Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.

Matthew 5:6


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