Farmgirls To The Rescue

As the old saying goes, “If it isn’t one thing, its another.” The cliche isn’t associated with positive “things” either. Trials and tribulation is as much a part of the human experience as breathing. And so it has been for us this calving season. Winter-like weather has cost us about 25 calves thus far. But, in the midst of wearying problems, you sometimes lift your eyes and help arrives via the hearts & hands of caring friends.

So it was one day last week …

We made the decision several years ago to calve later than some folks in these parts because of the weather in this region AND the kind of ranching situation we live with. Calving later (mid April), in theory, ought to spare us dealing with winter like temperatures. We know that a spring storm is still very much a real threat, but that kind of squall is usually over within 24 hours. Not so this April. Winter weather hit this area and lasted over 2 weeks – just as we headed into heavy calving. Unlike some ranches, we do not have large, farm-style barns to put calving cows in. Ours is a “cowboy outfit” and the cows live very naturally, much like the antelope and deer.

The long and short of it it this: we went to sleep at night knowing that the next day would be a matter of counting dead newborns. Dread is all to familiar a feeling that we walk with. If you let it stop you in your tracks, you would not be able to contend with the needs of the living that may be in danger. I know that folks like (prefer?) to read about the romance of ranch life, but the reality is that although this is a very good life to live, it demands that you deal with the full blown brunt of many harsh, heart-breaking realities. However, the upside is this: hard, harsh days make the sweetness of Life much more amplified. If a person was perhaps lost in complacency and failed to see life as truly precious, taking for granted the miracle of a beating heart as compared to one that you see fail before your eyes … ranching would bring to that soul a fresh appreciation of just how magnificent the sparkle of living eyes really is.

My sister, Beth, came for a visit last week. She had never been around here during calving season. The day before she arrived, I had tried and failed to revive a hypothermic newborn calf that Lynn brought in from the ranch.

The morning after Beth arrived, Lynn brought another chilled calf home. This baby had also been beaten up and refused by its momma. This sad occurance is more likely to happen when cows are stressed — in cold weather, for example. So, the calf had been literally thrown into an ice cold creek. The water was only about a foot deep, but to a newborn that had yet to stand, it would have been a watery grave. Fortunately for the calf, Lynn noticed the cow carrying on violently and went to investigate.

He just happened to see the calf in the creek before it perished in the icey water. “She” was very cold, but still alive. This was the beginning of her second chance at living. Lynn plopped her on the floorboard of his pickup, cranked up the heat and headed for home. A flurry of farmgirl love was soon to enter the scenario.

While I prepared a bottle of warm colostrum for the baby, Beth and my dear friend, Donna (who had popped in for a visit), descended on the calf with a blow dryer, heating pad and towels. I must also insert here that the female element is a magic secret weapon in this kind of life-saving project. Babies, all babies, respond to positive stimulation. Trust me, this baby was surrounded by farmgirl lovey-dovey!! Love and the practical applications of love brought our baby back from the very edge of death.

As you can well imagine, there was a lot of cooing and baby talk. Now, I have to tell you also that my baby sister has one aversion that she shares with our Momma. They canNOT stand to get their hands truly grungey … the kind of grunge that sticks and dries … ICKY grunge, the gross stuff, the under your fingernails grunge. Not just your average dirt. Birthing “goo” qualifies as grunge in this case as it was mixed with blood, poop & mud. But, Beth is as soft-hearted towards baby things and animals as any girl can be. As the baby was laid on the floor of our porch, limp and nearly lifeless, I made two mistakes. I told Beth that she didn’t have to help. She shot me a look. I then I handed her gloves to help with her aversion to “grunge”. This time she bluntly told me to basically get out of her way! :o) This is the first and only occasion my sister’s hands have EVER looked like this for any length of time … and they only became more encrusted with dried goo as she massaged the baby.

Donna is from a ranching family and she was right in the thick of it with Beth, enjoying what was looking like a successful rescue. She knows all too well that “you win some and you lose some.” Although we deal with death more frequently than most folks, we are by no means a friend of the grim reaper. I accept that death is a reality in this world, but he is my sworn enemy. Oh, the joy of being victorious over an old nemesis is sweet indeed. Our success was about a two hour process.

And so it went. Our little patient made her way back to the land of the living and soon she was strong enough to take nourishment. She shook her ears, looked around and was clearly alert and aware of what was going on around her. She paid close attention to getting to know her plural mommies. She then wanted to stand and try out her legs. Beth’s smile tells of a very special kind of joy … the joy if winning a battle that few get to experience.

Some of you might be wondering why the barn wouldn’t be a better place for this kind of activity. Here is why: The house is WARM and more comfortable for ME, the kitchen is convenient (bottle prep), I don’t have to walk back & forth to the barn, and the floor is vinyl — easy clean up. So, even though our porch serves as a cozy parlor area, a casual dining room, it is still a porch and a true farmgirl porch! Cattle and cowboys with dirty boots are welcome. Baby calves are honored guests. They are our livelihood.

As the baby heifer warmed up and perked up after her first full bottle, she wanted to get to know her surrogate mommies. The subject of a name came up. I told Beth that she could name her and I also made the decision that this heifer would be my new pet cow in the making. I have not had a “petting cow” for several years and since this baby received an intense application of human imprinting, I know she will forever be a “people person”. With this in mind, I will be writing about her journey in the coming months. Without further adieu, meet the new ranch princess-mascot …

You might have guessed her name, given the hint in the photo up yonder in this article. “Grace” it is and she’s a beauty too. Very feminine features, an exceptionally pretty little Angus doll-face.

This happy ending got happier yet when we carefully reintroduced “Gracie” to her real mother. You would have never guessed that she was the same crazed cow. She mooed ever so softly over her daughter, licked her all over and generally ‘made over her’… as if nothing had happened. Soon after, Gracie was nursing at her mother’s side. 100% success!! You might ask why we would re-introduce a refused baby to its natural mother. The calf never thrives on a diet of artificial milk replacer. The best possible outcome is a successful reunion. Most of the time that is what occurs. I don’t honestly know why a cow goes into a rage after birth. Perhaps it happens as a result of ‘hormone poisoning’. Maybe the cow associates the pain of birthing with the calf. Whatever the reason, they most often have a change of heart after a day or so. But, you do need to remove the calf or the cow may well kill it. Sorry, them’z the facts. “Gracie” is a testimony in support of trying to make the relationship work out for everyone involved.

And, I am happy to report that the weather improved muchly! The snow, albeit a curse during calving was very much a Godsend. We desperately needed moisture and so you take the good with the bad or visa-versa. The sun has come out and the Iris are poking their green spears up through the cedar mulch. WooooHoooo! The yellow-headed black birds also returned; they land enmasse in my garden yard to feast at open feeders for a few days before they move on further north.

The greening of the High Plains is beginning. The tint of it is here. Baby calves romp in the cool evenings on barely visible green. Soon, they will be barely visible as they nap in the grass that sways to and fro. Life is coming back to the long frozen prairie. As I ride, the sun on my back is intensely warm, as if it is just as new and freshly made as the Buttercups now blooming.

I hope you are enjoying all that spells “springtime” in your corner of the woods. Spring isn’t quite here yet, but I can smell it now. Soon, my new porch will be a place to rest in, when my feet have had enough of working outside in the garden. Oh, I’m wayyy past ready and I’m sure you are too. Happy Spring Y’All !!!

Leave a comment 16 Comments

  1. Judy says:

    What a lovely story of Amazing Grace. It is truly gratifying when you can help a little one along. We raise sheep and have had an opportunity or two to help them out. Amazing Grace is lovely in every way. Thanks for sharing your adventure with us.

  2. bonnie ellis says:

    Shery: What a heartwarming story everyone. Grace is truly adorable. It was nice to meet Beth too. Shery,you have very special friends.
    Minnesota is full of snow too. We all need sunshine and warm weather. It’s May, er, I think it is. Think warm.

  3. Marion says:

    I love what you all did for this baby and her name is so perfect. I’m looking forward to watching her grow.

  4. Sukochi Lee says:

    I guess Grace will suck your fingers too, as a baby calf once did mine. She is, indeed, a beautiful bovine.

  5. Joan says:

    My my oh the memories of the farm/ranch life you have brought back to me. What a beauty she is – isn’t it something how some of them are so beautiful. We had snow/freezing on May 1st but it is mostly gone now and we are to get warmer soon. Looking forward to the popping up of the bulbs and being able to get outside. Thanks for sharing your wonderful experience. God Bless

  6. This is an absolutely wonderful story! I can so identify with all your actions and feelings. Very similar here only with goats… I too lost about 25 kids when it didn’t get above freezing…terrible. BUT then you have those with births and the kids help to lessen the blow a bit. You put into words so perfectly how it feels to be a "farmgirl"! All the best to you and Amazing Grace!!!

  7. Brenda says:

    Amazing Grace, Oh how sweet the sound
    And the face! Love this happy ending. Since I grew up in farm country in Indiana I have a completely different picture when it comes to cows. My grandfather was a dairy farmer, I have probably said this before, but there was no open range just fenced in pasture areas. Spring has finally came to Michigan also. Just last week we got up to snow one morning. And the rain and floods in the Grand Rapids area were something else. We live about an hour north of there and our ponds are overflowing. But we will be glad of it this summer because one of the ponds waters our vegetable garden. I am ready for the warm weather and for the green grass. The hens have been out of the run and enjoying the yard and following me around which makes me smile. Your chair looks very inviting and a wonderful place to put your feet up at the end of the day with a good book or magazine.

  8. Donna says:

    My heart loves reading your post! I so miss my country home and 60 goats, my horse and chickens. I love the name Amazing Grace!!!! Thank you for shareing. Helps me wait just a little longer for home.
    Donna

  9. Rhonda Sjolund Smith says:

    Truly loved this story! What a wonderful outcome. I’m so sad that you lost some of these previous babies. Hopefully Spring is here to stay! Best wishes to you as you progress through your calving season.

  10. Lacey says:

    Amazing is LIFE, and we are so lucky to be reminded of this once a year during those magical months of calving!! We have also seen a few nice days up here just north of the border, enough though that an unfortunate grass fire broke out and burned 15, 000 acres of native prairie land, luckily no one was hurt and no homes were destroyed, Grasslands National Park will have an interesting summer as the animals return to the land and begin to rebuild their homes. Anyway I thought you might like to read about it if you haven’t already, as I remembered reading one of your posts last summer about the horrible fires!! Take Care, best of luck with the remainder of your calving season!!
    Lacey

  11. Debra says:

    That is so sweet. Love spring and all the babies!

  12. Linda says:

    Oh my goodness what a survival story. Amazing Grace is a beautiful little girl – and yes, as all good country girls know – cows can be beautiful. So good to hear Momma decided she made a bad decision and was willing to take her baby back for a fresh start. Looking forward to stories of this Amazing Grace.

  13. PJ Robertson says:

    I always love love your incredible posts and this one takes the cake! Love that amazing little Gracie!

  14. Victoria says:

    I’m teared up once again. Golly Shery! I always know your post are gonna be a tear jerker! Whether it’s for joy or sorrow, you get right to the heart of this ol’ farmgirl. I’ve raised many calves on the bottle. When they thrive, it’s so joyful and when they didn’t, oh my…don’t even want to think about it. I felt like I was right there with you gals, helping that baby stay in this world of ours. Thank you for another wonderful story from Wyo.

  15. Terry Fansler says:

    Shery,
    You can not imagine how your stories touch me so deeply. Amazing Grace is amazing and Ribbon is adorable! You tell the stories of your life with such love and compassion. You inspire me in so many ways. I live in South Carolina on an island. Spring is a bit different here but we wait it for it with anticipation. Our winters are very mild but Spring still represents new beginnings in our garden and in our wildlife. The newborn deer are now emerging and they are adorable. I want to hug them. My favorite part of Spring is May when the Loggerhead sea turtles return to our beaches to nest. I am very involved in the Seabrook Island Turtle Patrol and walk the beaches daily looking for new nests. When July comes, the nests start hatching and I head the inventory team collecting data on the hatched nests. Our little hatchlings are adorable – you can hold them in the palm of your hand. Someday they will weigh as much as 300 pounds! We have a dolphin pod which lives in our shore waters. Their babies are now appearing too! It is wonderful here and this island and its way of life is my passion. I look forward to more of your posts. Thank you so much for sharing them! Terry Fansler – Seabrook Island, SC

  16. Katie M. says:

    This story was oh so familiar! Here in Mn we have had rain rain and more rain. The mud was up to the cows bellies and was stickier then ever! While changing fences my husband and I can upon a calf stuck in the mud. I mean STUCK!! After pushing and tugging and shoving we finally got him out. Got him dried off and fed and settled in for the night. Back to the fence and wouldn’t you know a Mamma was caught kicking her twin baby off the teat. Another rescue and back to that dang fence! "Muddy Waters" baby is back with the herd and the orphan baby is still being fed and coddled. ( For now at least).Never a dull moment on the farm and always way too much work!

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