The phone call came at 2 p.m. from a neighbor. “There is a dead cow on the trail behind your farm… Yes, she’s dead.”

Husband Bruce investigated and reported back that it was Ryder, a year-old Scottish Highlander heifer that our 10-year-old 4-H friend Olivia had shown at the Hopkinton and Deerfield fairs.

Darkness settled in on me. How could this gentle, friendly calf be dead? What happened? Could it have been prevented? What was she doing on the trail – outside the fence? These questions flooded my mind as tears streamed.

Ryder got her show-biz break when Star, a 2-year-old Highlander, turned a little anti-social on the day of the Costume competition at the Deerfield Fair. Star had defiantly tossed her head and wanted only to stay in her stall. Olivia thought hard about her options. Part of her 4-H experience is learning to make decisions and accepting the consequences.

The wrong decision when working with cattle can be fatal. Every year farmers – adults and children – are killed by cattle. That may not be meaningful, but it’s important to realize when a cow is going to be troublesome. And head shaking is not a sign of cooperation, especially when it’s accompanied by horns.
Olivia had another, younger heifer in her care. She decided that Ryder, would wear the silly dairy-cow costume. Ryder was smaller than Star so costume adjustments were required but Ryder patiently tolerated her last-minute fittings. When Olivia led her around the ring, she wore her black-and-white spots and fake udder with amiable dignity. They won first place – and the hearts of the audience. Ryder was the star that Star was not.

So why did Ryder die? I don’t think I’ll ever know. It could have been a coyote attack; maybe she fell, got stuck, and couldn’t get up; or maybe she broke her neck in a fall. But now she’s gone and will never again walk calmly around a show-ring to delight a little girl and amuse an audience.

Olivia is a smart cookie, and she’d made a good decision to substitute Ryder at the fair. Now that Ryder is gone forever, I’ve given up fighting back the tears as I picture the two of them in the show ring – Olivia dressed as a dairy farmer and Ryder as an unconvincing Holstein.

I was so proud of both of them that day, and I still am.