How Calving Starts
My daughter, Abby, and I were looking forward to a last big fling before calving and lambing start. Our plan was to spend the night four and a half hours away, at Fairmont Hot Springs, with a friend who always makes us laugh. Abby wanted a Girls Night with fingernail polish and strawberry Oreos. I wanted to finally get warm. Calving would start in 10 days or so, but just like humans, sometimes Mother Nature brings life to this world a little before the calendar declares time. This was the last weekend I felt comfortable turning my head away from my dependents.
Leaving the livestock for a night when the thermometer bounces around below zero requires a lot of preparation. I planned to triple feed. My friend, Mary, would do chores and check water troughs night and morning. We would be back Sunday afternoon before dark to be sure all was well before the biggest storm of the winter was forecast to hit.
We couldn’t wait.
Only we had to wait.
As I spread bales across the pasture, the cows bunched around their breakfast, jostling for the juiciest morsel.
Except for one 4-year-old cow.
She stood on a dry ridge, one of the few warm spots in the pasture.
I watched her while I fed a second load. She didn’t move at all, except to switch her tail.
By the third load, she laid down, then stood back up.
As I spread the bales, tiny feet and a nose appeared from under her tail.
Apparently, she was calving and I was, too.
The calf hit the ground, the cow spun around to lick it dry and I mentally reviewed the pasture activity of nine months ago. The bull that spent two days showing me the weak spots in my corral, but nobody ever claimed, had to be the culprit. Finally, the livestock inspector had hauled him to the auction without knowing his owner. I didn’t care who owned him. I just didn’t want him visiting my cows. And today, I wanted to treat my daughter to a memorable experience.
Bulls don’t always listen to what I want.
Three more cows offered evidence of that bull’s visit. They looked like a calf would fall out any minute.
I revised our plans. Fairmont was out. A day-trip to a hot springs in Helena, two and a half hours away, would give me a chance to check for calves early in the morning and before dark. It would still be fun and I could still get warm, although in accelerated circumstances.
Saturday’s dawn offered hope and no new calves. We threw our swimsuits and snacks in the truck. By the time we hit the interstate, 40 miles an hour in whiteout blowing snow revealed Sunday’s storm had arrived on Saturday and a pileup in the other lane.
We turned around.
Back at the ranch, the experienced mama had tucked her calf in among a bunch of still-expectant mothers laying on mounds of straw. The calf lay cozy and warm while the snow whipped around it.
As snow drifts built up where I had plowed them out a couple of days before, Abby and I made a second backup plan: A night at the movies in Conrad. I was sure the Orpheum would have the heat turned on. I could get warm there.
Abby, being the good sport she naturally is, thoroughly enjoyed the movie.
I hoped we could plow through the drifts all the way back to the house.
I buried the truck in the last drift.
By Sunday morning, the black cows stood sideways to the bright sun, soaking up skimpy warmth.
I buried the ranch truck in another drift while checking for new calves so I started the skid steer to feed, plow the driveway and pull both of my pickups out of snow drifts. While the skid steer warmed up, I watched an unfamiliar truck on the county road bite the ditch. A couple of teenage boys thanked me for pulling them back on to the road.
Back in the house after every dependent was fed and watered, I realized two things: I made the right decision to stay home and I could get warm later – probably in June.