It’s that time of year again on many ranches, long days spent watching carefully over expecting bovine mothers, playing midwife to adolescent first-time heifers that would rather take the calf that their herd mate has already delivered instead of lying down to have one of their own, and functioning on a diet comprised mostly of coffee.
Calving season is the time of year on the ranch that involves the most work, and biggest reward, but can also be the most emotionally draining. Seeing a newborn calf stand and nurse for the first time is a sight that every rancher takes pride in. On the other side of that coin, watching a calf draw its final breath because it was born in a blizzard and wasn’t found in time tears at the heart strings of those of us who make our living from the land.
2019 proved to be the hardest calving season that I have ever experienced. Two blizzards, record cold, chilled calves and countless hours spent packing calves into the barn made it an extremely difficult season. Even with all of the hardship, the reward of seeing all our hard work being turned out on summer grass made all of us smile from ear to ear. It has been said that ranchers are forever the optimists, frankly we have to be or we would never turn bulls out in the summer so we could lose sleep next spring.
Anyone that has ever calved out heifers knows that they are a whole different creature from any other animal on earth. They will claim calves that aren’t theirs, beat newborn calves for no apparent reason, neglect to claim their own calf, and do their level best to make you pull your hair out. I am fairly convinced that in the dictionary if you look up hormonal it says see heifer. The following poem is dedicated to all my fellow ranchers, veterinarians and hired men out there playing midwife to these creatures.
Frost hangs on the whiskers of my ol sorrel horse, we’re prowling through heavies, it’s calving season of course
She’s a cold one tonight here in the heifer lot, kinda wish I had some more coffee in that old worn out pot.
The snow’s a falling, and the wind’s starting to blow, boy some of these girls are really starting to show.
About 2 in the morning we find one looking pretty calvy, better get to the barn, or at the end of a rope you’ll savvy.
Something ain’t quite right about this adolescent mother, I see one foot, but where is the other?
She’s got a leg back and that just won’t do, but she’s in luck, cause I’m the midwife on this night crew.
With the leg popped forward and the chains pulled tight, mama better push or we’ll lose this fight.
A little push and a little pull, the shoulders come free and now there’s a lull. One more push and we’re in the clear, thanks for the help Mama dear.
A pen full of straw will do for tonight, both mama and calf are snuggled in tight, now it’s back in the saddle for the rest of the night.
Daylight dawns and we can loosen the cinch a notch, so ends another shift on the night watch.
With calving season underway, I wish all of you reading this a safe and prosperous calving season. Be safe out there and remember that no critter is worth a trip to the hospital for you or your family. That’s all for this time, may God bless you with kind mamas, or fast feet! Until next time remember to take care of your side of the barbed wire. ❖
Meinzer is a fourth-generation rancher raised on the southeastern plains of Colorado. He and his family live and ranch in Oshkosh, Neb.