Not enough credit is given to the little woman who pulls her half of the load during calving season. It doesn’t always get done quite as punchy as by the head cowboy, but by golly, it gets done. Recently a tale related to me brought that point home.
The weather had been blessing the ranch with lots of moisture in combinations of rain and then piles of snow followed by enough warmth in the day to make mud the challenge. The cowgirl was making her check through the expecting heifers and saw one in the snowy bottom of the pasture with the tell-tale tail wringing going on. Knowing she was in labor, she eased the first-time momma-to-be up to the prepared straw beds under the protection of the trees. The heifer was kicking at her belly and quite agitated, so she knew labor was in full swing.
Standing back where she could watch, she waited. The heifer bedded down and labor progressed. Soon one hoof was out but after much more work on the heifer’s part, nothing more happened. Too far to walk her to the pens, the cowgirl knew she was going to have to help, making do with what she had.
She pulled off her shirt, used the sleeve to cinch down on the exposed foot of the calf. Soon with two feet out and working them back and forth, she “walked” the calf out of the womb. All this while she was laying, sitting and slipping around in the mud that was beneath the straw.
With a live baby calf in her lap, her heart was happy. Standing up she realized the shirt was not wearable, and while it was a nice day, standing in 45 degree temps in her bra wasn’t quite the sunbathing experience she had in mind. Just another matter-a-fact day for the season.
In much a similar situation, I once found myself in corrals that were knee-deep in mud covered by a deceivingly benign-looking white blanket of snow. The underlying mush would suck off your boots and hindered any kind of movement other than a determined trudge.
I was on heifer-calving duty while the head cowboy was somewhere else. The weather dictated frequent checks to make sure some new, wet, steaming baby calf wasn’t born in a mud hole and chilled down before he ever got a chance at life.
Heifers by their very youth and nature are stupid, skittish and determined to be contrary. I cut laboring heifers out of the “OB” corral and penned them in warm stalls as they neared the birthing moment. I was in packer boots, every warm piece of clothing I owned, and looked like the Michelin man in a dance competition. Moving fast to cut off a heifer as she tried to cut back was not a pretty sight.
In all this, there was one heifer on the very far end of the corrals, a long alleyway from the barn, that decided to lay down and have her calf in the mud and snow in spite of my efforts. By the time I got to her, she was well into the business of pushing him out into a puddle of ice-cold mush.
She got up the minute she saw me and came at me with definite intent to harm. I deftly jumped (OK, that may be an exaggeration) behind the gate I had just come through. I let her run through the gate opening, preferable to running over the top of me. I quickly shut the gate behind her for safekeeping while I rescued the slimy newborn that was blinking and sputtering trying to get his first breaths.
The calf weighed more than he should have for a first-calf and was long, wet and slippery. I lifted him up by his front end, hugging his back to me, my grip tight around his body just behind his front legs. His back legs still touched the ground and I knew all I could do was walk backwards and drag him up the alley to the barn.
In no particular order, I tugged and trudged and grunted and pulled. About 10 feet from the barn door, I went down. My foot had pulled out of my boot and my sock was fast soaking up freezing wet corral muck. I was sitting on my frozen backside with a slimy calf in my lap, trying to figure out how to get out from underneath him, get my boot and start over.
As perfect as timing could be, it was then the head cowboy came around the corner of the barn.
He first grinned and then with decidedly poor judgment, he laughed. He rescued the calf off my lap while asking, “Was this all you got done today?” It was probably a week after the snow was gone before things thawed out at the ranch house.
Julie can be reached for comment at email@example.com