A Day During Calving

A group of university women asked me to talk about what it is like to be a female rancher.

I’m not sure I know the difference between male and female ranchers because I’ve never been a male rancher, but I agreed to do my best.

I thought about how to explain ranching for a month.

Then, the perfect example melded into a single day.

Calving season epitomizes the highest highs and the lowest lows.

My anxiety skyrockets – will I miss a critical signal between life and death?

So does my gratitude for new life. If your heart doesn’t smile when a newborn calf stumbles to stand while the cow coos to him, you better check your pulse.

On this particular day, my daughter, Abby, and I walked out to the bus.

This action in and of itself was a high. Our rule of thumb is to walk the half mile to the bus stop if the temperature is above 0, but drive out on cold mornings. We drove out every single morning of February and the first week of March.

As we walked, I checked the cows in the pasture. No sign of pending parturition.

I did the barn chores, then cranked the tractor to feed. It started. Another high chalked up to the day.

As I spread the first bales, I watched a cow with a slimy string protruding.

This cow had calved before, but something was not right. My anxiety rose.

I saddled my reliable horse.

All I had to do was stay in the saddle while he dodged and dipped, making all the right moves at just the right time. Admiring his agility and instinct took me high again. Way high.

But the low came when I stuck my hand into the cow. The calf was obviously dead. I worked up a sweat pulling it out while the lows plummeted.

I couldn’t bring the calf back to life so I returned to feeding in the crusty snow drifts.

The grapple loader on the tractor makes feeding more efficient, but that grapple upsets the weight balance. I got stuck. Some people panic at the very idea of being stuck in the snow. I carry a shovel in every vehicle.

I dug out. The tractor moved 10 feet before I was buried again. The lows were swinging the mood pendulum.

But I had chocolate in my pocket so a high came to my rescue. This time of year, I can eat all the chocolate I want and my jeans still stay loose.

I commiserated about the dead calf to a friend, bringing sympathy and the age-old phrase “If you have livestock, you’ll have dead stock.”

Yep, but that pontification is far easier to swallow while sitting around a fire at hunting camp in October than during calving season. Still, I feel better when someone understands.

By then, I needed to go to town for a school board meeting.

I rearranged my mind to eliminate dead calves, shovels and hay leaves from my thoughts, invoke my inner Zen and concentrate on teacher salaries, budgets and the critical importance of educating kids. Broader thoughts brought a better mood.

By the time I got home, I still needed to tackle repairing the skid steer hydraulic hose. Replacing a hose should not be hard. This one is. Frustration mounted. When I snapped at Abby, I knew it was time to quit.

Finally, I went to bed.

Tomorrow would be a great day. There’s always tomorrow. I wouldn’t want it any other way – except to have all of my calves alive.

Lisa Schmidt