When Jack called me while I was working out of town for a few days, I was sure it was not just to say hello, especially when he knew I was already on my way home. He would not want to risk interfering with a meeting I might be in just to have a trivial conversation. So when I saw I had missed his call, I knew something was up that needed my attention and I immediately called him back.
Sure enough, after our usual greetings and a brief catching up, he said, "I hated to bother you, but we have a problem. That heifer we thought was open has had a calf this morning, but she had it under the electric fence and now she is trying to kill it. Every time the calf tries to get up, she just bellers and rams it into the ground." (We know the word is bellows, but we say "bellers.")
"I was able to get them penned up and separated, but we are gonna need to do something with it when you get home tonight because it hasn’t nursed and it is a good calf," he continued.
Now, this is not the first time this has happened on our farm. In fact, this is our second experience with this problem this year and probably our fifth in eight years, despite the fact we had disconnected the lower fence wire during calving season just for this reason. For some reason, these heifers chose a spot right beside the four-strand, high-tensile electric fence to give birth. As soon as the calf is born, the mama gets up and begins to clean the calf off. This is important in the bonding process and stimulates the calf to get up on its feet to nurse. As the newborn calf tries to get up on its feet, it staggers around on its awkward and trembling legs, stumbling and falling time and time again, until it eventually makes its way under the electric fence.
The shocking of the fence does not appear to have an immediate reaction on the baby calf like it does on an older calf or cow. In fact, it shows little if any sign it is being shocked. However, when the mama cow continues to lick the calf and bond with it, the charge of the fence is now passing through the calf directly to the cow and it is eating her lunch! The shock does not bother the calf nor does not change the calf’s attitude toward its mama but it totally changes the mama’s attitude toward her new baby. Every time she touches her baby, she gets shocked and apparently thinks it is the calf hurting her. In a matter of seconds, the bonding process is reversed. The cow that instinctively would defend the calf at any cost, and still may be trying to do so, now will not stop her attack until she kills the calf unless there is someone to intervene like Jack did.
You probably would have to have some experience with calving and would have to have seen this experience firsthand a few times to reach the hypothesis I have reached, and I am not sure I have it figured out but here is what I think: The problem appears to be that there is now a real conflict between the mind and the maternal instincts of the cow. If the cow was just trying to get away from the pain of being shocked, she would just run off and leave the calf alone. The problem is that all of her natural maternal instincts and the hormones in her system associated with calving cause her to stay with the calf and to continue trying to care for her new baby. She does not seem able to run away and leave her baby without cleaning it up and taking care of it, but, at the same time, she cannot stand the constant surging of electricity coming to her from the calf. While it appears that she is initially taking her pain out on her baby because she hates it and wants to kill it, I think, in the first several minutes anyway, her intent is to attack the electricity she thinks is attacking her baby. In other words, I think her initial aggression is not at the baby itself but is an attempt to attack the electricity and get it off and away from her baby – if not, she would just run away and escape the threat.
After a few episodes of being repeatedly shocked by the baby, I think the cow/calf bond is eventually broken and she does want to kill or reject her calf because she now sees the calf itself as a threat to her own welfare, but it does not begin that way. The constant pain and the relentless getting hurt over and over again leads to the rejection and aggression. However, with a lot of care, wisdom, attention, time and effort, even that can most often be reversed and the cow will eventually learn to accept the calf over a period of days or weeks.
What I also find interesting is that, if the calf is able to survive the initial aggression, it will continue trying to pursue its mama to nurse, until it gets injured, killed or too weak to do so. If it gets kicked repeatedly in the head or run into the ground enough times, it will shy away, but only after relentless attempts and getting hurt. Even then, if you restrain the mama and give the calf access to the teat without being kicked and attacked for a number of days until it gets enough strength to either dodge or flee its mama’s aggression when it needs to, it does not hesitate to bond with its mama – though the mama will take a lot longer to come around. The calf needs the mama, but the mama does not need the calf; and that seems to make all the difference.
As I reflect on these on-the-farm experiences, I think about all the relationships in our lives affected by intentional or unintentional hurt and rejection. How many people do we no longer have proper relationships with because we have been hurt by them? How many relationships are not what they should be because we are the ones who inflicted the pain?
Many times the pain or rejection is caused just by a misunderstanding or misinterpretation of what was said or done. Just like the cow that thought the calf was trying to hurt her when that was not the case at all, it was the electricity the calf was tangled up in that caused the pain. The cow was indeed being hurt, but it was not the calf hurting her. Many times the hurt is because we thought someone was trying to hurt us; when, in fact, they were trying to protect us – just as the mama cow was causing the calf pain while trying to protect it from the electricity. The calf was indeed being hurt, but it was not the mother’s intent to hurt the calf but to fight off the electricity hurting her baby.
I have met a lot of people around the world who feel angry, hurt and rejected by God because bad things have happened to them or to others they loved. In their hurt, they think, if God is all-powerful, all-knowing, all-loving and an ever-present God, He would not have allowed them to be hurt the way they were. If God really loved and cared for me, I or my loved one would not have cancer. If God really loved me, I would not have lost my spouse. If God really loved me, He would not have taken my child. If God really loved me, I would not feel so rejected and alone. If God really loved me, how could He have stood by and allowed this terrible thing someone did to me. If God really loved me, ... ... ... ..!
I do not know the answers to any of these questions except that we are sinful people living in a sinful world where bad things happen – for a time. It is not that He is distant, uncaring or has rejected us. In fact, just the opposite is true. He loves each one of us so much that He would exchange the life of His only Son to give us life! Jesus suffered and died in our place so we can not only be forgiven and one day inherit eternal life but also to give us hope and peace in the midst of suffering in this life. There is no greater expression of love and acceptance than that!
He is not angry and does not reject you. In fact, He calls and longs with outstretched arms for you to come to Him! All you have to do is accept what Jesus did for you, confess and turn from your sin, and stop rejecting Him. He is waiting and He loves you with an unconditional and unending love. He does not need you. You, on the other hand, are hopeless without Him and that makes all the difference!