From Behind the Wheel of the ‘Burban

Our ‘Burban has seen in all: With more miles on it than the odometer will admit; with a gas tank you better have filled before heading out to the cows because the fuel gauge has been broken for years; the dent in the driver-side door from when that momma cow got after me when I had just tagged her baby’s ear; or the dent in the hood from when #057 chased me up on top of the hood when I was trying to check on her baby. Yes, our ‘Burban has seen it all.

 The ‘Burban: It’s a 1994 Chevy Suburban that is our family’s cow checkin’, calf taggin’, shaggin’ wagon that has experienced more calving season memories than any of us. It got its name when our children were toddlers and couldn’t pronounce “Suburban. From that point on, its name was “The ‘Burban.

With snow storms, negative temps, 50 degrees, so much mud, sunshine, and wind (all within a weeks’ time) you’d better believe its calving season in Nebraska. 

 The ‘Burban is loaded down after chores in the morning with fresh bags of mineral and salt blocks, a couple old blankets in case we need to warm up a cold baby calf, tags to ID any new babies we find, a warm bucket of water for electrolytes and formula in case we need to care for a sick baby; and of course, a massive bowl of my mom’s famous peanut butter popcorn to get us through a day of calving.

The “Bourbon” has seen many things, from happiness, sadness, anger, tears, and exhaustion.  It’s pure joy to see the calves playing and sunbathing in the fresh hay that was just spread across the ground, the healthy herd of momma cows and babies together enjoying the warm sun. It’s pure joy to see a cow with her new baby at her side drinking colostrum and playing around in the fields, as that is what we want–a healthy baby and mom. Those milk mustaches are my favorites!

The laughs that are in that ‘Burban are countless.  Once when it was so muddy that a new baby had gotten stranded, I had to trudge across the mud hole to get it and carry it back across to her momma–only to lose my balance and fall into a mud hole all while looking up and hearing my mom laughing hysterically over the situation.  Or the time we were all laughing when my brother was getting chased in circles around a tree 21 times when trying to ID a momma’s baby.  It brings a smile to my face to look back and see my three-year-old daughter taking a nap in the ‘Burban after a long day of checking cows, knowing we are raising the next generation of ranchers.  We’ve had many fun times in the “Bourbon” after a Saturday night church service, taking a road trip to the cows as family time laughing and reminiscing and watching God’s beauty in the countryside, and in those momma cows and their babies.  It’s truly a family thing. 

The ‘Burban has seen anger, sadness; and tears over what we work so dang hard for. We love and provide the utmost care to each of our livestock, so we’ve been through the gambit of emotions. Whether there’s an issue with the cow’s pregnancy and we experience the loss of a baby calf, or when a momma doesn’t have the motherly instinct in her and we need to step in to fulfill the role of that baby’s mom, the care of our livestock always comes first.

We have a pen of calves that we end up feeding by hand every morning and night.  Feeding by hand isn’t the ideal situation, but necessary in certain situations. For example, there may be a multiple birth and the mother doesn’t have enough milk supply to feed both twins, the cow doesn’t have a motherly instinct, or it’s possible the mother lost her life during birth and we need to take the baby calf in as our orphan and raise it for her.  On expansive ranches where cattle can roam and graze, it’s possible a cow may lose her calf and not be able to find it (we had a few in this past snow storm). In this situation, we will take that orphan calf and try to adapt it to a new mother and hope that she “adopts” that baby as her own.  

The ‘Burban has probably seen exhaustion more than anything else.  The life of a rancher isn’t always easy, glamourous, or pretty.  There are not any breaks in calving season.  We will take shifts–even through the night–to make sure no calf or momma is in any danger or becomes sick.  Whether it is 45 degrees above or 35 degrees below, we are out there.  People have asked me, “Why do you do it?” My answer: “because I love it!” It isn’t always fun and beautiful, but it’s what we do.  It’s how my parents raised my siblings and me.  It’s in our blood.  We lost our father seven years ago in a tragic farming accident that turned our world upside down.  Through the heartache and pain and suffering, we have kept his legacy going through his cows, so every calving season for us is meaningful beyond imagination.  Springtime is here.  Calving season is here.  It’s what we do. 

It’s a family thing!