There's something about an open field that makes our souls smile from the inside out. The cool breeze, the soft grass and all of the life God created under a big blue sky.
In Delta in rural Clay County, they have all of that at the Traylor family's farm. The cattle business is a way of life for Richie, Michelle, Shelby and Sarah. The two sisters have grown up with a true country raising and have inspired others to stick to their Alabama values.
But when it comes to Shelby Traylor, her story is remarkable. She wasn't supposed ever to be born. Her story is a true lesson in life.
Father Richie and mother Michelle were excited to have their first daughter in early 2000. But as the pregnancy progressed, they found out there would be challenges. An AFP blood test showed a risk of spina-bifida, a condition that affects the spine and can lead to physical and intellectual disabilities.
When she was around 20 weeks pregnant, she had an amniocentesis, which confirmed their baby girl had spina-bifida. Michelle had never heard of spina-bifida, but she wasn't scared of a little challenge.
"They told me by Alabama law that I had so many more weeks that I could abort her and there was no way I was going do that," she said. "If He gave her to us one minute or one second or six years, then whatever, that's what God gave us."
Throughout the pregnancy, Michelle said doctors at UAB urged her to abort her baby. Even after Shelby was born on January 31, 2000, the doctor there once again mentioned they should have gotten an abortion.
"When she was born, the doctors came out and said, 'You knew it was going to be like that why didn't you do something about it?" Michelle remembered.
Maybe he didn't feel like dealing with such a high-risk delivery and all of the complications following the birth, Michelle thought. But either way, she wasn't about to allow anything to happen to her miracle baby.
As time went on, Shelby had to undergo multiple surgeries, but she developed well and was walking by 18 months. It wasn't long before Michelle realized the best treatment for her daughter couldn't be found in a hospital or a doctor's office, but it was out in those open fields.
"The cows have been her therapy for her life," Michelle said. "She used to have 104 or 105 temp and I would take her out there and the cows would come to her and in 20 minutes, her fever was gone. That was just using God's creation and that's what healed her."
She had surgery when she was five to give her ankles flexibility, and that's when Shelby was gifted a special cow. A family from Kentucky gave her a freemartin heifer.
Freemartin heifers are not supposed to be able to reproduce. The phenomenon occurs when male/female twins are born. The female twin gets so much of the male hormones while in the womb, it often shows male characteristics and has masculine traits. For a working farm, they aren't worth much but for Shelby, it was the gift that kept giving. The calf's name was Granny.
"That calf is what gave her a family of three heifers," Michelle explained. "It was a blessing that just kept on blessing. They are so smart. We didn't teach them this but when Shelby would walk down a hill, they would stand there and wait for her to turn around and then they would come down."
Shelby said she has had a lot of favorite cows over the years, but Granny and Granny's daughter Abby stand out the most. Granny and Abby have passed away, but Shelby said their bloodline will continue. Granny's great-great-granddaughters are now part of the family.
Farm life has been therapeutic for Shelby but has also allowed her to grow as an adult. She shows cows and helps youth show cows. She helps promote the cattle industry and knows the ins and outs of the business.
"She knows her cow stuff so well," her mom said. "People call her for her opinion on a bull or what bull to breed."
Shelby and Sarah were named Premiere Breeder for Holstein during the 2023 Alabama National Fair. Shelby has also won several grand championships.
She has been showing cows since she was four years old and said her favorite part is making memories, building relationships and inspiring the younger generation.
"We've never discouraged her or told her she couldn't do something," said Michelle. "If she wants to do it, we just do it."
Michelle believes Shelby's success is because the family has never treated her differently.
"The name of my game has always been, 'What can I do to make sure she can do whatever she wants?" Michelle said. "I don't want her to question, 'can she do something,' I just make it so she can."
In 2010, when Shelby had spinal surgery, she had to lay on her stomach for six weeks. Michelle knew that wouldn't go well, so she got creative. She made a pallet with blankets on a Polaris off-road vehicle to take Shelby out to the pasture.
"What made her go was the animals," Michelle said. "That's just what God used for us and we had lots of them."
Three days after that surgery, Shelby was at a Blake Shelton concert. Michelle said it took planning, but she could make it happen.
Shelby said at the end of every long day, she feels blessed.
"I've pretty much always been able to do what I wanted to do," Shelby said. "Momma always made it happen."
The freedom of being able to do what you want to do is not only the Alabama way but it's the American way. The Traylor family is thankful for their freedoms and grateful they did not let science scare them into making a wrong choice. They hope Shelby's story of success and happiness is a lesson for all who read it.
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