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 !!!