The Clock of Life awakens again about now, maybe responding to longer days or warmer temperatures, but I think it is the mud sticking to rubber boots.
Whatever it is, the cattle feel the tick-tock growing louder and faster as spring peeks from behind the snowflakes.
The yearlings must hear that tick-tock because — like teenagers everywhere — they find the loopholes in the fences’ boundaries. They have gone under the barbed wire and over the snow banks to get to our very best hay. My husband, Steve, finally stacked monster straw bales around the haystack to keep the persistent mouths from cherry-picking the best alfalfa leaves and stomping the stems into the mud. For about a week — until the icebergs melted and we could fix the fence — every morning when I needed to load a few bales for the sheep, Steve opened the straw bale “door” with the tractor loader, the dogs kept the calves out of the hay while I loaded the pickup and then Steve slammed the door shut.
But we found good news in the new post holes when we reinforced the hay lot fence. The soil is wet and soaking up more moisture down below two feet. The grass roots will be able draw on that moisture as soon as they hear the tick-tock and start their spring run for the sun.
The yearlings are not the only age class to feel the new season. The cows roam the pasture, even after they have filled their bellies. The new calves buck and run circles around their mamas.
And Patty is growing like a dandelion in June.
Steve found this obviously premature heifer on St. Patrick’s Day. Her mother stood over her protectively, but the baby shivered in the mud even on the relatively mild sunny day, too weak to stand. We knew the Clock of Life had become a stopwatch, quickly ticking the wrong direction. We had to warm her, get some magic first milk into her system and then bring her back to her mother before the cow thought the calf had died.
I loaded her in the back of the pickup, brought her to the kitchen, warmed some colostrum on the stove and began to teach her to nurse the bottle. Neither Steve nor I laid any cash down on her life.
My kids tend to start their mornings with “Mom, Mom, Mom,” but about 4:30 the next morning, another voice added to the choir. “Maa, Maa, Maa.” Little Patty had survived the night and needed some breakfast.
Patty moved to a better neighborhood that morning. Three times a day for the next week, I woke Patty from a nap next to the corral manger, herded her mother into the chute and helped Patty find the udder.
Patty was a slow learner.
Patty was still in the corral when my friend brought her young daughter to the barn. Four-year-old Abby was playing hostess to her friends who had lived in Florida until two years ago when Steve hollered to open the gate. A heifer needed help calving.
Dianna and the girls stood still and quiet while Steve and I slopped through the corral mud to rope the heifer and pull the calf. The chute was full of dirty snowmelt so we decided to tie the heifer to the hay manger, help her lie down and pull from there.
The heifer preferred to stand.
Steve and I climbed into the manger, each took one calf leg and we pulled. Hard. The calf was coming in the right position, but twisted just a bit so it hip-locked. Dianna’s eyes were wide as I passed her with the calf-puller — it must have looked like a giant, racheted cheese slicer to the uninitiated — but uttered not a peep.
We worked as fast as we could, once again feeling the Clock of Life as a stop watch counting our progress against death. Within 10 minutes, the calf was on the ground, its mother licking it and murmuring, both of us panting to catch our breath. We beat the Clock.
We tromped through the springtime mud up to the house. Abby discovered sprigs of green grass poking up on the edges of the driveway ruts, evidence of the Clock of Life ticking with new batteries in the tiny shoots.
It must have been because of all the mud on her boots.
Lisa Schmidt and her husband, Steve Hutton, raise natural, grassfed beef and lamb at the Graham Ranch near Conrad.
She has two children; Will, 12, and Abby, 4.