The birthing coach
Midwives, doulas, birthing coaches, birth plans, epidurals, water births. In today’s modern society, birthing new life is big business. The same is true here on the ranch. March in the big cities is marked by whose basketball bracket will be the most accurate, when the St. Patrick’s Day parade will start and who cooks the best corned beef. Out here in ranch country however, the month of March usually means long hours in the saddle, lots of mud, new calves daily and ranchers honing their skills pulling calves, warming up chilled ones, and correcting improper behavior in adolescent bovine mothers.
Having grown up in a ranching family, working my way through college on cow calf outfits, and making my career ranching, calving is hands down the most important time of the year on the ranch. While it isn’t a flattering job, in fact it’s dirty, smelly, dangerous and yet somehow very rewarding. Anyone who has ever calved out cows will tell you that no two years are the same. For instance this year started our season with 70 degree weather, only to switch suddenly and dump 3.5 inches of rain on us. Two years ago, the majority of our calves were born inside of the calving barn because the temperature outside barely hit freezing.
Ranchers are the ultimate midwife. We usually try to make sure that our calving barns are top of the line, straw in stalls, a clean pulling area, and a vet room that looks like the emergency room. We have to be prepared for every possible situation that we might face. Backwards calves, breech births, general dystocia, and other calving emergencies. The day starts somewhere around the time the first calf hits the ground and doesn’t stop until the last one is safely on the ground. Sure there are short pauses to eat a meal and get some sleep for a couple hours until the next check starts, but if we bovine midwives do not know the state of our herds, it could be disastrous for us.
Now the bovine birthing coach does things a little differently in the calving barn than his counterpart in the hospital in town does. Remember that fancy calving barn, well sometimes time doesn’t allow for our patient to make it there. I’ve taken part in a “water birth” as I laid down in a mud puddle behind a cow and helped bring her calf into the world. For those that see pictures in magazines and on television of beautiful baby calves playing with their mothers that believe they could do our job, I encourage you to try before you buy. If you can live on marginal sleep, coffee, cold meals and be OK with your four legged employees trying to invent new ways to maim you, then this job is for you. If you think you would rather watch the snow from inside the house and make snowmen after it’s over, then being a bovine midwife isn’t for you.
Everyday there is something new, a new challenge to take care of. A gelled tractor, a knuckled calf that needs to be splinted with PVC pipe and duct tape, or cows that would rather have their neighbors calf than their own, are just a few of the things that are all part of the job description. The reward for this job comes when you realize that you are the one responsible the lives of these newborn calves. You get to thank God when a chilled out calf warms up because of the electrolytes you fed him. And most importantly you get to work alongside your family. Kids learn lessons about life, Dad learns patience, and Mom is the glue that keeps us all together.
That’s all for this time. May you all be rewarded with healthy calves, and may God bless you with fast feet or kind mamas. Keep Tabs on your Side of the barbed wire.
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