There was a recent video of a two-headed calf that went viral on TikTok.

Dwayne Faber is a writer, speaker and dairy farmer. He and his family operate farms in Oregon. To...

If you don’t know what TikTok is, it’s the thing your grandchild is probably staring at during Thanksgiving when your entire family is over.

This video has been viewed more than 30 million times. For better or worse, this is one way the dairy industry can engage with consumers.

We have to be able to show that the animal world is not an idyllic Disney utopia, free of abnormalities, pain and suffering. We live in a world today that wants to avoid conversations on death and to anthropomorphize animals.

Having more than one head is a condition called polycephaly. This condition is a result of the incomplete division of a single embryo, or the incomplete fusion of two separate embryos. The most prevalent cases of polycephaly are in snakes and turtles, with the odds of seeing a case in cattle being one in 400 million. This abnormality presents many challenges, and the longest recorded living calf with polycephaly lived to be 17 months old. A calf with this abnormality would have four ears, four eyes, two noses and two mouths.


During my research for this article (yes, I do research; this is not some fly-by-night, two-bit operation), I came across an incredible poem. This poem was written by Laura Gilpin, who was an American poet, nurse and advocate for hospital reform. She was born in 1950 and died in 2007 in Fairhope, Alabama.

Two-headed calf

Tomorrow when the farm boys find this

freak of nature, they will wrap his body

in newspaper and carry him to the museum.

But tonight he is alive and in the north

field with his mother. It is a perfect

summer evening: the moon rising over

the orchard, the wind in the grass. And

as he stares into the sky, there are

twice as many stars as usual.

The video that went viral had many references to this poem, and in my mind, it is completely mesmerizing. For one, it is amazing that there is a poem written about a two-headed calf. This poem is rich, concise, poignant; everything that a literary aficionado with an English teacher mother could appreciate.

This poem touches on something deeper than just a calf with an abnormality. You see, having cultural norms is healthy, and it's how we as humans keep each other in check. It is how we maintain law and order, and it is how we make sure someone else doesn’t infringe on our human rights. Yet, there is something human in that two-headed calf. In some ways, we are all freaks of nature. We all feel that at times we do not fit into the world around us. We all have feelings of inadequacy and not living up to the standards we or society has placed upon us. We often get caught up in the day-to-day turmoil of life and then one day wake up wondering where all that time went. The kids are grown, our jump shot can’t hit the rim, we get out of breath chasing the cows in.

There is a stoic phrase, "Memento mori" or “Remember you must die.” At the risk of sounding too dark, I think this is a healthy perspective for all of us. We can get caught up on living for the moment, on making the very last dollar, on not thinking eternally. One day, we too will be wrapped in newspaper and placed in a museum. So go out and enjoy a summer evening, a moon on a clear night, an orchard, the wind in the grass and, yes, the stars in the sky.

Memento mori.