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One of the very first fundamental truths my farmer husband taught this city girl was that not all cattle were cows. I was shocked to learn that those black and white ones with the "udders" were female.

Before they were labeled as cows, their first title was "heifer calf” because they were female. Boys were born bulls calves. In addition to that, there was a difference between hay and straw and chocolate milk did not come from brown cows.

These revelations were among my introduction into the world of dairy farming.

A few years after we were married, this "heifer" gave birth to a "bull calf" named Max. Our little guy was a born farmer. When I couldn't get him to stop crying, I'd bring him out to the John Deere and he'd cease all tears immediately. He loved the cows and as soon as he could walk, was a regular farm hand.

It took both my husband and myself to get him buckled in his carseat and he would just scream. Max never wanted to leave “his” farm.

At that time, I was still pretty new to this whole farming life.  At that age of 2, my son knew more than I did about the chore routine and when to feed the cows. He knew the proper place for every piece of machinery and if anything was out of sorts, he would be sure to let dad know.

Farmer and his firstborn son were inseparable. Apparently it was time for our junior farmer to start his own herd. His daddy entered him in the Great Christmas Heifer Giveaway sponsored by the Dairy Star, a newspaper that serves all of Minnesota and parts of Iowa, Wisconsin, and South Dakota.

My husband failed to tell me about this because, really, what were the odds of a 2 year old winning among 4 states and thousands of entries? Well, he was wrong.

One December afternoon, I received a phone call. It was nap time and I was annoyed, so I quickly picked up the phone.

“Hello,” I answered in a whispered voice that may have been a bit crabby.

“Hi, Mrs. Tilderquist. I’m from the Dairy Star. I just wanted to tell you that Max’s name is in the top 10 that we drew for that heifer.”

Silence.

“Like, a stuffed animal calf?,” I asked.

“Uh, no. A real one,” the caller replied in a very confused tone.

“What in the world does a 2 year old need a real live heifer calf for? How did you even get his name? I don’t even understand what you’re saying to me right now.”

Remember how my husband signed him up at multiple places? That little piece of info would have been helpful to know instead of sounding like the city turned country girl that I was.

The very next day, I got a live call from a radio station informing me that Max, my little toddler going on 40, won the Christmas heifer calf. She was at a farm in Wisconsin and we needed to go pick her up. Needless to say, we loaded everyone up and went.

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The calf was a Bolton daughter out of a Die-Hard daughter that came from Honeycrest Farms in Spring Valley, Wisconsin. (I still don’t understand how this all works, but for those who do, here you go.) Her name was Seven because she had a patch of white on her forehead that was in the shape of that number. This could not have been more perfect since Max is the seventh generation on our family farm, Til-Acres.

It was love at first sight for the pair. My junior farmer was so excited. He promised to share her with his little sister and brother. Max was quoted as saying, “Me take it and milk it in daddy’s parlor.” And that’s exactly what he did for the next 6 years. Like every good farmer, Max knew which one she was when she walked in. He always talked to her and was gentle.  The mutual love and respect was evident.

On July 30, 2016, we called the vet because Seven had a suspected kidney infection. Eight year old Max had to come supervise because she was his and he didn’t want her to be afraid if he wasn’t there. As the vet started the IV, the big bovine’s heart gave out and she fell to the ground. Her owner saw the whole thing happen.

Since he didn’t want daddy to see him cry, Max ran home and all the way into his bedroom. He slammed the door shut and I could hear his heart wrenching sobs from the kitchen. I called to ask my husband why on earth our son was so upset and he told me about Seven. We both sat on the phone and cried. I was sad that the animal had passed on, but my heart hurt for my grief-stricken boy.

After things had calmed down, I quietly sat beside my son. I’m sure many people will disagree with what I did next and that’s okay.  After all, animals don’t have a soul and I was taught that they do not go to heaven. We have such a good and merciful God though. The Bible tells us whatever makes us happy will be in heaven. His eye is even on the sparrow.

She was a part of God’s majestic creation. I told my boy, as tears streamed down both our cheeks, that Seven was up in heaven. She’s waiting in the special room that Jesus has prepared for Max someday. That was enough to comfort my farm boy, but it didn’t lessen the pain.

I don’t think the void she left in his tender heart will ever be fully filled again. Every farmer remembers his first animal and every farmer has a favorite.

Now when Seven’s daughter, Suzy, walks in the parlor, Max knows exactly which one she is too. Suzy gave birth to a bull calf on December 26, 2017.  Max proudly named him, of course, Santa. We had to sell the bull in September, but while he was here, he was loved too.

It’s about that time of year when Suzy could be a mama again. If she is, that will be the best Christmas present for a young farm boy trying to expand his herd. Seven the Christmas heifer’s legacy will live on in her pedigree and in Max’s heart forever.

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