But it was not the same with Jess. The first steer she raised for auction was "Milton," and she'd loved him so much she persuaded her grandfather to buy him, to spare his execution.
Outside in the dark, Bobby found "Goodness" in a puddle near the water trough, on the slippery cement between the barn and silo.
"Goodness" was not an old cow, so either it was something sudden, or something she'd been carrying inside.
"Probably a heart attack," Bobby's mother said.
The other cows would be coming out soon, and although they would step over the corpse to get to the field beyond, Bobby's mother wanted the body moved so Jess wouldn't see it.
The sky was as black as a hearse, and Bobby had to use the tractor's headlights to help him see. He roped chains around the animal's legs before dragging it behind the parlor.
It used to be that a farmer was paid for his loss, that the company processing the remains into dog food gave money for the carcass. But times changed, and no life or death on the farm was exactly the same.
It cost $35 to have "Goodness" hauled away.
Tracy Stiles was diagnosed with cancer when he was just 43. After it happened, he retraced his footsteps the way people with cancer do, looking for a cause.
Was it heredity? (Probably.) Was it farm chemicals? (Probably not.) Could it have been prevented?(Who ever knew the answer to that?)
The first surgeries and treatments swept the family from the spring of 1998 into the spring of 1999.
Until this past spring, Bobby thought his father had it licked.
The checkup in February found nothing.
The MRI came back clean.
On the farm, Bobby did chores without asking his mother what needed to be done. She was busy. So was Jess. With all of them pitching in, the farm chugged on like a motor.
Until the end of March, when Bobby's father had problems with his balance.
Tracy explained to Bobby: "It was like being drunk 24 hours without having had a drop of alcohol."
When the doctors ruled out everything else, they did another MRI, and the MRI revealed something worse than they imagined: Where the surgeons had removed one tumor from his brain, now there were four.
The bad news drove them east to Baltimore and the University of Maryland Medical Center, for more surgeries, for advanced treatments, for 201 beams of gamma radiation shot like thunder bolts into his brain.
On the farm, they moved a hospital bed into the house and set it up beside a window overlooking the porch. From there he could see them, see the carport, the driveway, the parlor, the barn, the silo, the fields, the cows fanning flies with the sun on their backs.
The motor chugged on through summer, into August, time for the county fair.
Bobby had bought three hogs from his aunt and uncle. He'd named them "Ford," "Chevy" and "Dodge," but "Ford" was born deformed, so Bobby wouldn't be able to show him. Bobby was fattening a dairy steer to sell, too, because steers were good money for college.
The way the auction worked, 4-H'ers were supposed to line up a buyer before the sale. Bobby was too shy for that. In years past, a friend of the family bought one of his hogs, and The Feed Bin, where he got his grain, purchased the other.
This year, he had too much on his mind to give either hog a second thought.
Bobby's father was scheduled to have a lung biopsy the day the Ag Expo opened early to allow contestants to bring their baked goods, garden vegetables, crafts and animals to be judged in the week ahead.
Bobby's mother had taken his father to have the test, but the nurses had come out to the waiting room and said he wasn't able to finish it. They'd given him a sedative, and he'd fallen asleep, so Janet took him home.
By Saturday, when the fair opened, he hadn't really woken up. His speech was slurred, he didn't make sense, he couldn't stay awake. Bobby and his mother took their animals into town, but when they returned to the farm, his dad was no better.
By Sunday, his condition had not changed.
Bobby thought about the choice he had to make: "I don't want to look back and say I spent his last months me doing nothing but homework for college and not spending time with him."
And he thought: "And that way, I can help mom so she doesn't wear herself down trying to do it all."
By Monday, when Bobby didn't appear to wash his hogs and present them for weighing and judging, his friends knew something was seriously wrong. Bobby knew the rules: If you didn't show Monday, you couldn't sell Friday.
The adults in the hog barn knew where he was - back at the hospital with his dad.
Many of them had known Janet for years, because she'd grown up in Boonsboro. She was the first with a pan of lasagna if there was trouble on a neighboring farm. They came to know Tracy through his work and through Benevola United Methodist Church. They all thought he was a fine man, a good farmer.
The Ag Expo superintendent allowed a teen-age girl who knew Bobby through Sunday School to show one hog and a 9-year-old whose hog was judged the Grand Champion to show the other.