The kids hooted as they pulled on lead ropes and dashed around the barnyard, each with a calf in tow. They didn’t need any encouragement to run in this competition; what child doesn’t want to race about with a calf? The calves were just as eager. It’s true. Kids and calves love to run.
After the third race, everyone was exhausted and ready for a nap, even me, and I was just an observer.
These kids and some calves were graduates of farm summer camp at Miles Smith Farm. In July, the children spent three weeks training calves, doing farm chores, and getting dirty. Twelve graduates were invited back for five “advanced calf training” Saturdays, working with five Belted Galloway heifers (female calves) I’d purchased a few weeks earlier. These heifers joined ten trained summer camp calves.
After naming the new heifers after Greek goddesses Athena, Circe, Hera, Venus, and Iris, we put a halter on each, tied their lead ropes to a solid post, and stood back. Venus leaped in the air while Hera dashed to the end of her rope, turned, and ran the other way. My star pupil, tiny Iris, quickly calmed down and watched her sisters’ antics. After 20 minutes, they got tired of fighting the tether, but the battle was not over. The calves dragged their lead ropes for a few days as they wandered free in their pen. Once a day, we’d step on each lead rope and tie each calf while we took temperatures and checked for scours (calf diarrhea).
Now halter trained, the calves were ready for the next step. These newbies need to trust humans, and after two months off, the summer-camp calves required a refresher course.
The kids could lead the trained calves or take on one of the newbies. Rose didn’t hesitate. She grabbed Circe’s rope and led her into the barnyard, where Circe bounded and leaped. Rose did the right thing. She stood her ground, holding the lead line so that Circe ran in circles around Rose. This technique keeps the handler safe and away from danger while the calf burns off energy.
The calf thought she was running away but was orbiting Rose. The same thing happened with Cameron when he took Hera for a walk. He stood still while Hera ran in circles.
The kids also learned to use a stick to “extend their arm” when touching a nervous calf. The child can stroke and touch the calf without getting too close. Good for a shy calf and good for the child.
These Saturday sessions are “boot-camp” for aspiring cattle wranglers who have completed at least one session of farm summer camp. At the end of the third session, I asked, “Who got dirty?” They all raised their hands. When I asked, “Who had fun?” The same hands shot into the air. Later, William’s mom told me her son can’t wait until next year’s Farm Camp.
Watching these young wranglers train and re-train calves brings joy to my heart. Of course, they also do what all farmers must: chores. The kids swept the feed-bunker floor, shoveled manure, and cleaned the rabbit cage. For me, the novelty of farm chores wore off decades ago, but it’s still fresh for the young farm hands.
Farm Camp 2024
The five Saturday sessions end on Oct. 21, and I’ll miss interacting with my enthusiastic young human friends. Like William, I can’t wait for Farm Camp 2024!
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Carole Soule is co-owner of Miles Smith Farm. Visitors are welcome to smash pumpkins to feed the cows on Saturday, November 4 between 11 a.m. and 4 p.m. Bring your own pumpkins or smash ours. Find us at 55 Whitehouse Rd., Loudon, NH.