I know that Christmas has traditionally held the title of “Most Wonderful Time of the Year”, but I think that for people with cattle, the hands-down winner is calving season.
For those of you not familiar with calving season, it is a time of incredibly hard work. Many people we know begin calving in January. (Yes, I said January.) A standard procedure is to check every two hours, including through the night.
On our farm, we wait until April. (There are many reasons people calve at particular times of the year–I won’t go into those here). Newborn calves need to get an eartag (so we can keep records on them throughout their life) and get weighed. We do this out in the pasture with the momma cow standing right in front of us. This can be a bit nerve-wracking. We pride our cowherd on gentle dispositions, but even a very tame cow is (and should be) concerned when you are messing with her baby. Having a 1400 pound momma standing with her nose near the calf while you check it over ensures very gentle treatment of that little critter.
Of course, things do not always go as planned. Every now and then there is a calf we cannot save. Or a set of twins where one gets left behind and we have to keep bringing it back to momma for a few days until she remembers that she has TWO babies. Or a late spring blizzard which creates mud so deep we can’t drive out to check the herd. A new calf born in those conditions needs to be brought inside and the only way to bring it in is to carry it.
A couple years ago, hubby carried one calf a half mile. The poor baby was frozen so stiff we could barely get his legs bent to put him in the bathtub and start warm water running. Even though our youngest son was very young at the time, he still tells us about how the calf took a bath. The calf spent the night in the basement on the heated floor and recovered quickly. Unfortunately, when we took him back out to momma the next morning, she decided he smelled funny and didn’t want anything to do with him. He was raised on milk replacer brought out twice a day in large bottles.
Back to the title. With all of this hard work, and occasional heartbreak, why is calving season “the most wonderful time of the year”?
I could be pragmatic and say that it is because those calves represent our livelihood–our income. We do our job to ensure as many live, healthy calves as possible. But, in reality, there is a different reason it is special. It is hard to explain, but when you see a newborn calf get up and begin to nurse–you cannot help but smile when you see its little tail swishing back and forth. And nothing beats watching a group of calves running out in the pasture, playing games that resemble “hide and seek”, and “tag”.
I guess calving time is a reminder that life is constantly renewing itself. Just like the way life takes on a different, more exuberant tone when you are around children, I think our outlook toward farming is more energetic and positive when we see the calves running around.
What do you think? What is your favorite part of farm life?