The Story of Buttercup

Buttercup and Alyssa at the Dairy Show
Buttercup and Alyssa at the Dairy Show

I spent a lot of time in high school and the beginning of college worrying that I would never find anything that I was passionate about. Everyone made such a big deal about it—counselors and teachers were always encouraging us to pick a major or career that we love. When I was applying to college I intended to be a nursing major, but once I got in I promptly changed my major to chemistry and then again to biology. Nothing felt right. I was getting closer—I knew I liked the healthcare industry but I wasn’t quite there yet. Finally—I don’t remember how I came to this realization—but I figured out that I wanted to work with animals and not people. I came to UConn officially as an animal science major, with the intention to go to veterinary school. Still, this just didn’t feel exactly right, but I was getting closer, so I stuck with it.

During the spring of my freshman year, I received an e-mail about participating in a dairy show, no experience necessary. I had no idea what I was getting myself into, but I went to the meeting anyway.  I knew I needed some experience with large animals if I wanted to be competitive for vet school. I learned that I would pick a dairy heifer, train her to walk and set up, groom her, and finally show her in front of a judge in a few months. They had a list of names of the animals we could choose, and I picked a random one: Buttercup.

I started working with Buttercup a few times a week, and every time I went down to the barn it was the highlight of my day. The first few practices, I got her used to wearing a halter and being handled. This involved a lot of petting her and brushing her. Once she got used to me, this also involved a lot of her using me as a scratching post. Eventually, we got to the point where I could walk her a few steps here and there on a lead, and finally we could even walk outside. As the show got closer, I got to give her a bath and clip her fur so she would look just right. As I was working with her, it amazed me how gentle and kind these animals could be, and how much of a personality each specific one had. I was slowly falling in love with dairy cows, and I’m not sure that I even knew it was happening.

On the day of the show, everything went fairly smoothly, and Buttercup and I placed third out of six in the intermediate class—most of the people had shown once or twice previously. I was so proud of us, but putting her back in her pen after the show made me sadder than I thought it would. I realized I would no longer be spending my days down at the barn working with her. Afterwards, I visited the heifers every so often, but that wasn’t enough. Eventually, I was lucky enough to get a job working at the Kellogg Dairy Center, milking the cows that we have on campus. I love working with them. One of the best parts of the job is working with calves. I knew someday soon Buttercup would be moved up from the heifer barn to the milking barn; I checked every time I worked to see if she was there yet.

Betsy on the night she was born
Betsy on the night she was born

Finally, the day came when I walked into work and checked the pregnant cows to see if anyone had calved before we got there, and I saw Buttercup in a stall with a tiny brown calf who must have just been born minutes before we walked in. I was so excited to be the one working when she calved, and I even got to name her baby: Betsy. This night is when something just clicked; I knew that I wanted to work in the dairy industry. I had finally found the thing I was passionate about that had always seemed impossible.

Unfortunately, Buttercup got sick shortly after she calved and a few weeks later, I found out that she was definitely not going to get better. I was devastated, but it was nobody’s fault, and I had to accept it and look for a silver lining. I found this in Betsy, who I’m very excited to show in this spring’s dairy show.

You don’t have to know what your passion is right away. It took me 18 years to find mine, and it came from an unexpected place. When I signed up to participate in the dairy show, I thought I’d just train a cow, write it on my resume, and move on with my life. I never thought that I’d fall in love with an animal and change my entire life plan, but that’s what happens when everything falls into place. I mention Buttercup on every application I submit and in every interview I have when I’m applying for jobs and internships, and it’s worked: this summer I will be interning in Washington DC, advocating for agriculture policy that supports dairy farmers. If you’re still trying to find your passion, I’ll leave you with this final advice: Go out of your comfort zone, don’t be afraid to say “yes”, and be open-minded. You’d be surprised at what might make everything make sense.