Shelli Mader: Road to Ranching 3-18-13
A few years ago my farmer friend Ron and his daughter Jenny were struggling with their relationship. Jenny was 15-years-old and into school sports, 4-H and any other extracurricular activity she could get her parents to let her do. She was the definition of a strong-willed child, just like Ron had been when he was growing up. Their similarities had caused them to clash on numerous occasions — especially when they were working together on the farm. Their relationship was cordial at best.
But everything changed the Saturday before Easter a few years ago. Ron was in a hurry. He’d gotten up late and had lots of errands to run before a forecasted evening snow. His wife Jill and Jenny had some work to do at their local church, so Ron was on his own to get to the bank, feed store and numerous other places.
Before he left for town, Ron made a quick check of the cows. He only had about a dozen left to calve, and none of them looked like they were going to give birth anytime soon. Most of the herd was gathered near the water tank, so Ron quickly passed them by, scanned the horizon for any cows off by themselves and then left for town. As he drove off he had the fleeting thought that he hadn’t seen Jenny’s favorite former 4-H cow, Star, but he was in too much of a rush to go back and check. He was sure she had been one of the black ones by the water tank.
Ron’s errands took most of the morning as did Jill and Jenny’s church activities. Ron had asked Jenny to check the cows when she got home, but she forgot. The cows didn’t get checked again until 6:00. By that time snow was blowing and the temperature was dropping into the single digits. This time, Ron looked for Star in the pasture, but couldn’t find her with the rest of the herd. He drove around for nearly 20 minutes in the near whiteout conditions until he spotted her in the far corner of the pasture, laying on her side. The cow was definitely in labor — and it looked like she had been that way for a while.
Thankfully, Ron was able to get Star up. He phoned for help from his wife and daughter and they quickly brought the other pickup out and helped drive Star to the barn. Both Ron and Jenny felt guilty for not checking on her earlier in the day.
Star was in bad shape. The calf was big and the labor and walk to the barn had nearly taken all of Star’s energy. She laid down on the ground in the barn and Ron — with help from the girls — pulled on the calf so hard he thought he would break himself or injury the cow. It was after midnight when Star finally delivered.
The big black calf was lifeless, but Jenny and Jill took towels and rubbed it down quickly. Thankfully, the calf finally coughed and took its first breath. Ron and Jenny stayed up most of the night trying to get some colostrum down the calf, and keep Star alive.
Ron and Jenny spent most of Easter Sunday taking care of Star — they couldn’t get her to stand — and trying to get Easter Lily, the heifer calf, to suck. Though the circumstances weren’t ideal, the father-daughter team spent more hours together than they had in a long time and remembered they actually liked to be around each other. It was definitely an Easter of redemption for them.
Today, when they look back on that Easter, both Jenny and Ron consider it a huge turning point in their relationship. Even though Star never stood again and sadly wound up dying, Jenny raised Lily as a bucket calf and the family kept her in the herd. ❖