The compassion and dedication shown to livestock by ranchers is nothing new to the readers of this publication. To the rest of the world, however, the level of care ranchers give to their stock is difficult to explain.

That’s one reason Joe Carpenter and Barb Downey, the husband and wife team who own Downey Angus Ranch near Wabaunsee, Kansas, use social media sites like Facebook to illustrate the ranch life.

Chances are, they didn’t know how big their Facebook following would become when Joe posted a picture of a little bull calf born Jan. 4, some 50 days premature.

Fortunately, Carpenter discovered the calf a few minutes after it was born. He scooped up the little guy—its joints weren’t developed enough for it to stand, let alone walk—and took it from the pasture to the barn.

Joe put the 20-pound calf inside a 20-by 25-inch box, nestled inside a calf warmer. Naturally, he had to be bottle-fed, a few ounces at a time. Whenever Joe, his wife Barb or their two girls fed the little calf, they posted it on Facebook.

And what happened next is amazing.

Before long, a loyal Facebook crowd named the calf “Miracle,” and it had a loyal following on Facebook.

There are two things at play here. One, a rancher’s dedication to his or her animals. And two, the amazing power of social media to tell a story, particularly one as heartwarming as that of Miracle the Angus calf.

Devoted following

Before long, Carpenter’s Facebook page became flooded with folks asking about Miracle’s well being. The calf’s livelihood was touch and go: He couldn’t stand. He regurgitated the calf replacer. He had no energy. Momma wouldn’t take him.

The entire Downey Ranch team persevered. Admittedly, with no other calves scheduled to hit the ground for six weeks, they had time to dedicate to Miracle (or as much free time as a rancher typically has).

Progress was slow. After a few days Miracle stood up, although his back legs were weak. He bleated, much to the delight of a growing legion of Facebook fans. Carpenter wasn’t merely taking care of Miracle. He was showing this online audience a rancher’s compassion and dedication.

Ten days after Miracle’s birth, he finally drank an entire bottle on his own.

“He had been to the edge, and taken a small step back,” Joe wrote on his Facebook page.

Not that he was out of the woods. He had yet to nurse from his mother, but took a major step forward on Day 11 when he finally latched on and nursed. In his daily report, Carpenter noted the success, and repeated the words from one of Miracle’s Facebook fans.

“Nothing worthwhile is ever easy,” the fan wrote. “You have done an amazing job so far and this is the point where Miracle and Mother Nature test the mettle of a dedicated soul to overcome obstacles.”

Joe cautioned Miracle’s fan club that he wasn’t out of the woods.

A bittersweet ending

Those words were prophetic. Miracle couldn’t overcome the odds, which were stacked against him from the start. On day 13, his little body gave out. Carpenter broke the news on his Facebook page. To those who had followed Miracle’s story, it was disappointing.

It was disappointing to Carpenter, too. After all the effort—the blood and sweat, the late nights and early mornings—it hurt to lose that one little calf, he told me on the phone. “It always stinks when you lose a calf. We work hard to take care of these animals, and we have compassion for them,” he said. “That’s our job.”

So goes the life of a rancher. Soon, he’ll have 500 more calves to care for, each of which will be treated as compassionately as Miracle.

Bill Spiegel can be reached at 785-587-7796 or

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