Calving season is a pretty major deal for every ranch. After all, it’s when you welcome the new critters into the world whose existence is responsible for paying your bills eight or nine months later for expenses that you incurred eighteen months before they arrive. It’s complicated, all right, but the bottom line is, healthy live calves will give you much-needed income.
Calving can also be a bit like an emotional roller coaster ride in that there are several ups and downs throughout its course.
Stage One is the most blissful of the stages, one that I refer to as the Anticipation and Wonderment Phase. Cows are brought closer to home for better monitoring. Ranchers place soft, dry straw bedding in the pens just like an expectant (human) mother might prepare a baby bassinette in a nursery. You anxiously await the first arrival, checking the cows a little too frequently, a little too excitedly and maybe a bit impatiently. You’ve been waiting on these babies for a long time and you are soon to see firsthand the fruits of your carefully crafted breeding plan labors. The stars seem to shine brighter on those numerous midnight walks to the barn. You gaze at the Northern Lights once again and feel just a smidgen of pity for the poor urban dwellers who will never know the magic of the midnight bovine midwifery care that you, the rancher, are so blessed to provide.
Enter Stage Two, the phase I like to call Ticking Time Bomb. By this time, you’ve gotten through the first cycle and probably been dealt a few extreme weather events just for good measure as well. You’ve drank several dozen pots of coffee to wake up in the morning, to keep yourself awake during the day, and to get yourself through until the next check, which feels like it should be 3am but in reality, is only 7pm. You’ve dealt with normal everyday events of calving, big and small, and while things are probably going just fine, the smallest thing may cause you to react a bit… er, dramatically.
Stage Three is the Wrap-Up Phase. The weather’s behaving a bit better, you’re sleeping through the night again, and the edge is (thankfully) wearing off. You can reflect a bit on the past couple of months, and rationally acknowledge the good times and a few bad times too. In the end, you realize you made it through to the other side. You get out your breeding field lists to organize who is going where and with what so you can repeat the whole calving process in nine months’ time.
The other day I was going to run some errands and I checked the calving cows on the way. I had Baby Girl in tow and a schedule to keep and here was a cow that decided she should start calving. I didn’t want to run quickly to town and miss it because Murphy’s Law states that’s exactly when something bad would happen. But I didn’t feel like sitting around for the next 30-60 minutes that it might take for her to expel this bovine fetus. Feeling oh-so-sorry for myself, Baby Girl and I drove through the older calves and their moms for a bit to while away some time. A quick check on the cow showed that she was progressing, but still no baby. Also, she was acutely aware of my obstetrical observation efforts, which often slows the entire process down. By now my baby is sleeping peacefully, so all I can do is hurry up and wait, contemplating my super important errands in their current un-ran state. I reclined my seat and tried to relax for a few minutes, because there really wasn’t much else I could do at that point anyway. After a bit, I snuck around to the back of the pen playing a sneaky game of I Spy. What did I spy but a happy, wet, newborn baby calf! And it was beautiful. Watching the mama lick her baby off, murmuring little bovine moos of encouragement to him as he tried to stand just moments after his birth. All of a sudden, I was taken back to the Anticipation and Wonderment stage. Two months and lots of calves later, witnessing the birth of a calf is still kind of amazing. Which is good, because in about 305 days, we’re going to do it all over again.