October is Down Syndrome Awareness Month. I honestly did not know that until a few weeks ago. A friend and fellow dairy enthusiast has two boys, the youngest son has Down Syndrome. She began sharing daily facts for the whole month. So I asked if she would be interested in sharing some of their story with my readers. Of course she was and here it is!
One of the first dairy cattle selection skills I learned as a child was how to read a pedigree. A pedigree is essentially a family tree that includes specific data relative to an individual animal and the animal’s ancestors, including their milk production and numbers called linear scores that describe certain elements of their body composition. There are also codes that would indicate any genetic abnormalities within the ancestry and some of the other indicators would offer numeric predictions for how an animal may perform based on their genetics. Essentially, a pedigree is a snapshot into a family history that offers valuable information surrounding the potential for future generations.
During that same time in my life, I was also learning the irreplaceable value of raising cattle in a good environment when it came to developing my herd. Specifically, science tells us that some of the fundamental items of a good environment include sound nutrition, good animal health and a safe shelter with adequate ventilation. The art of executing strong animal husbandry skills however, can take things to the next level and begins to add many subtle intricacies to the basic scientific data and includes things like noticing when an animal is beginning to go off feed or a milking where her production is decreased, initial indicators of illness. Likewise, becoming intimately familiar with the personalities of the individual animals in the barn to the point that you’d notice when “Bessy” who is always first in the milking parlor is hanging back, giving you a reason to investigate and learn why. Being a good “cowman” or “cowwoman” for that matter essentially comes down to understanding cattle and making the right decisions to help each individual in your barn meet their fullest potential.
Those two and a half decades spent on my family farm were essential preparation for me in becoming a mother… no longer was I just bottle feeding my four-legged baby calves, but now I was caring for my own two-legged babies and almost all of the nurturing skills that I’d practiced with cattle for my whole life were applicable… things like figuring out how to continue meeting the needs of another while working through sheer exhaustion from late nights and early mornings, the importance of keeping routine feedings and even sometimes understanding the inherent value of just laughing when you find yourself covered in poop! My husbandry skills were especially handy when my husband and I welcomed our second child, a son named Luke who was born with Down syndrome, a genetic anomaly where a person is born with an extra copy of their 21st chromosome. Additionally, Luke was born with a congenital heart defect that is present in nearly 35 percent of people with Down syndrome known as Atrioventricular Canal Defect that was later repaired via open heart surgery when he was 16 months old. Again I found myself using cow knowledge with human life…. Administering pharmaceuticals, monitoring weight gain, observing breathing patterns, watching for sunken eyes, excessive sleepiness and unusual behavior to indicate something was off because just like cattle, babies can’t verbalize when they aren’t feeling well.
The value of environment feels especially heightened for me right now as our young family is immersed is early development… our typically developing 3 year old recently started preschool and our son with Down syndrome is engaged in weekly sessions of physical therapy and speech therapy as well as regular occupational therapy sessions. Although our children have nearly the same pedigrees, the genetic code indicating a 47th chromosome for Luke tells us that he will likely be differently abled from his brother… As I learned on the farm, it’s my responsibility as a caregiver to both of them to offer an environment that helps each of them meet their unique and fullest potential!
October is Down syndrome awareness month… please know that people with Down syndrome have the ability to make significant contributions to their local communities and society in general. Having a son with Down syndrome is incredibly rewarding and the combination of differently abled children contributes to a diverse and wonderful home life for our family. Please join me as I blog about our family at www.luke-bringeroflight.blogspot.com.
About the Author: Kristin Taylor and her family reside in rural Wayne County, Ohio and she has a deep appreciation for agriculture, with a specific interest in the dairy industry. She has been a 4-H advisor for 15 years and has previously been involved with Ohio Farm Bureau. She is a member of the American Jersey Cattle Association and a participates on their Junior Activities Committee. She is also a past National Jersey Queen. More recently, she’s become acquainted with groups like the Down Syndrome Diagnosis Network and the National Down Syndrome Society. Kristin has faith that God has designed a unique and wonderful plan for her life and the lives of her children and she enjoys advocating for individuals with special needs.