Eleven-year-old Josie Webb of Ewing has her hand in many things.
A sixth-grader at Ewing Grade School, Josie is a regular on the theater stages in Franklin County, plays the alto saxophone in her school band, and is a member of the choir, even earning Illinois Music Educators Association recognition. She participates in archery and was most valuable player on her volleyball team.
She is also a farm kid who knows the value and rewards of hard work.
About a month ago, Josie became a surrogate mother to Zeus.
"It seemed almost magical," said Josie's mom, Tracey. "This little calf showed up and just rubbed up to Shannon (Josie's dad) in the bean field."
When no mother cow showed up, Shannon took the calf to the weaning barn.
That's where Josie stepped in.
"They just fell in love," said Tracey.
Josie named her bucket baby Zeus. Now three weeks old, Josie has shown no signs of becoming bored with her new maternal duties.
She gets up every morning at 6:30 a.m. to feed and care for Zeus before school. Then she comes home after school and repeats those duties before rushing off to another rehearsal or practice.
It may seem like a lot of work, but Josie doesn't mind.
Zeus showed up just days after Josie lost her grandma, Judy Webb, on Sept. 18.
"It was unexpected," said Tracey of her mother-in-law's death. "He's kind of like a miracle calf. Josie really needed someone to love, someone that needed her."
Zeus is very pampered. "It was his lucky day that he was abandoned," said Tracey.
Josie said she loves caring for Zeus, who follows her around and comes running when she steps into the barn in her mud boots.
"He splashes the bucket all over me," she said, grinning.
Josie understands how important her role is in caring for Zeus. "This baby cow would starve to death if I didn't bucket feed him," she said. "It teaches me a lot of responsibility."
For the farm family, Zeus is a long-term investment. The polled Hereford calf will eat and grow for the next few years before taking on the role of a stud bull on the farm.
Josie will also start to introduce him to other cows "so he won't feel lonely."
She is also responsible for keeping his stall clean, but insists she doesn't mind the extra duties that will continue until Zeus is about six months old.
"I never really had an opportunity to care for an animal that really needs me," she said. "I love him."