It has arrived. Our first babies have hit the ground. What follows will be restless nights and multiple trips to the calving shed. We have a pretty good setup here for calving. To the east side of my yard sits the heifer lot, where this year, 58 heifers will have their first babies. If I go out my side gate, it (in city terms) is about a block long hike to our calving shed. During the day, the heifers are in the lot, but every day at 5:00 we will push them into the corral and sort off those we think are close to calving. This in itself is a gamble, but close examination of the size and tightness of her bag and whether or not she is “springing” or the muscles are relaxing around her hiney can give a good indication. The rest are turned back outside. We check them every 2-4 hours. During the day, I can easily walk among them in a few minutes. At night I do the 10 pm check, Vernon does the 2 am, and Johnny drives over from his house at 5 am. We will do this every day until they have all calved. Our first two were cute little girls who arrived without help. Unfortunately today we had horrible luck. Calves present themselves front feet first, their heads laying on their legs. Vernon had one this afternoon with a leg back. That entails penning the heifer in a squeeze chute to hold her and reaching in to reposition the calf. The calf was born dead. Rotten luck. More rotten luck followed as another heifer seemed to be taking too long to present, so Vernon stuck her into the chute and pulled out a little bitty calf. Dead. Because of its size, Vernon reached in again and sure enough, felt the other twin and pulled it as well. Dead. We were 0 for 3 today. There’s nothing quite so sad as seeing the little warm bodies laying steaming on the ground. You’ve failed. But that is part of calving season.
My Guys hard at work in the morning.
A few days ago in the midst of an afternoon walk, I stopped. The hillsides were covered in snow, the road I had walked on was ice. But a different sound was literally underlying the countryside. It took a minute to distinguish it. An unseen river was melting underneath my feet. The snow was melting and running hidden downhill. The ice I stood on was softening on the bottom and pooling, the pool then leaking into rivulets and the rivulets joining to create a mini brook racing down each draw. Today, I walked again. This time the snow and ice had begun to disappear and the open areas of dirt proudly chanted the musical notes of running water. It was everywhere. My boots had leaked. My jeans were absorbing moisture at a rapid rate. Each footfall either slipped in mud, splashed in water, or sank in softened snow. Though mornings greet me with frozen ground and frosty air, afternoons celebrate themselves with warm air, sunshine, and galloping water. The ice has begun its losing battle for control of the creek. Ice chunks have started to sink from the few open spots. The creek seems happy to have sunlight in its depths again. This rocky mountain springwater is rushing off with grains of red dirt embedded in its midst; transporting soil and redepositing it some other lucky place. Dare I say it?? The first signs of Spring are here!
People have told me that the reason ranchers get married is to have someone along in the pickup to open gates. I’ve always laughed at that true statement… and since I wasn’t raised on a ranch, I really never had a true idea what living on a ranch would be like. A small tip sheet might have been an eye-opener. For example, my questionnaire for women who want to be ranchwives would begin:
1. Can you open barb wire gates?
2. Can you handle disgusting?
And I quickly have to digress here on that point. One disgusting activity is what we did today. Now our heifers are about to have their first calves…and we vaccinate them so they can carry on the antibodies to their babies. They were down in our school section about a mile away from the corrals, so we trailed them SLOWLY home on the icy road. Lucas did fairly well as cowdog of the day. We put them in the corral and broke for lunch. By the time we returned the day had become false spring. The ice and snow were melting. In the corral that meant a soup of manure and snowmelt, nice…and “green”. Now I am designated “Vaccinator of Cattle” and I took my position at the squeeze chute. I have no problems with that title, it isn’t disgusting. What is disgusting is the soup we have to walk in, which would have been less of a problem had my brand new boots not been LEAKING! *&^%^! But if anyone has ever worked cattle you know what happens on soupy days. You get splattered. You get it on your jeans and on your coat and on your hands and, yes, dear friends, frequently on your face. It is disgusting. No one told me when I got married that to help my husband, to be his partner and workmate, I would have to take shots of manure in the face, on my sunglasses, on my hat, in my hair. Multiple times throughout the year actually. And that isn’t the only disgusting thing I have had to do. Perhaps there should be sub headings under #2. Like:
A. Are you willing to take shots of manure to the face?
B. Does cleaning pens with straw and afterbirth bother you?
C. Can you stand the stench of infected lump jaw when it is lanced? AKA, can you eat cheese pizza after seeing the inside, now outside, of a lump jaw?
D. Does popping a cow’s eye out to treat cancer eye make you squint?
E. If the cow has mastitis or a huge zit on her back (caused by flies/grubs), are you smart enough to have someone else doctor them?
F. Does prolapse mean anything at all to you? AKA, do you really want to know what the inside of a cow looks like? It ain’t black!
Or my all time favorite:
G. Can you imagine the ripping feeling of pulling off big fist sized warts out of some poor cow’s ear.
Yeccch. Yeccch. Yeccch. I REALLY hate that, and I don’t know why. We had a big infestation of them the past few years and it totally grosses me out. I finally started hucking the pieces at my husband who stood at the back of the alley and laughed at me. I repeatedly told him that ABSOLUTELY NOWHERE in the fine print of our marriage license did it ever say I would have to peel warts out of cows’ ears. NOWHERE!
The only thing I haven’t figured out about all this after being married for 26 years is WHY, OH WHY, WHEN I DO ALL THESE DISGUSTING ACTIVITIES do I, of all things, LAUGH. I don’t get it. I really don’t.