I believe it is not just those of us who farm and ranch who long for signs of spring as the winter months on the calendar draw to a close and the daylight hours grow longer. Whether one lives in a downtown loft, suburban home, or in the most rural of spaces, that first blade of green grass, bud on a tree, crocus or tulip popping out of the ground, and opening day of the major league baseball season all bring about more spring in one’s step as they go about their day.
My favorite part of spring – and I know this is also the favorite part for many who do what we do – is what we call calving season. Oh, we know the traditional season names, spring, summer, fall and winter; however, when we speak amongst ourselves, we are more likely to refer to them as calving season, planting season, haying season, pasture season, harvest time, weaning time and winter. (Yes, winter is just winter. I am sure there are people who enjoy skiing or snowboarding who love it. I don’t love it. I respect it and I appreciate that it reduces the insect population.)
This year, winter took on a whole new sense of entitlement, in that it chose to stay around far beyond its welcome and its scheduled (according to the calendar) time. We had some nice days here and there, but then we had an April blizzard. APRIL for crying out loud! April is when we should be mending fence from the drifts of snow that may have piled on it during winter, holding brandings and getting ready to haul momma cows and their calves to grass – for pasture season. In our part of the country, the first week of May is a very typical starting time for pasture season. Not this year.
We don’t get to pick what the weather is going to be as much as we yearn to have that super power. So, what can we do? We listen to forecasts and we prepare to the best of our ability. When ranchers are well into, or even finished up with calving season and the weather deals them a blow like this year, they deal right back. We roll out straw bales for bedding behind windbreaks, we provide extra feed before the storm hits, and we check calves and check calves and check calves for the duration of the storm. When we find a calf that didn’t choose to nestle in with some others in a sheltered area, we take it in, warm it up, then take it back to its mom so it can nurse. Families and neighbors work hard together to care for the livestock. They work in shifts, make sure generators are working properly when the power is out, someone may be washing and drying the layers and layers of clothes to have ready so those who are outside can take a minute and switch out what they are wearing, and finally, they scrounge up something for supper at 10:00 p.m. Though this isn’t the fun part of ranching, it’s worth it when you save as many calves as possible from perishing due to the wicked blow Mother Nature dealt.
Ranchers are a special kind of people. We do earn our living from the land and the livestock that harvest their nourishment from the land. The economic losses from losing calves makes a difference to our families and our communities where we spend our dollars. But there is something much more. At the moment you are carrying that calf into the barn to dry it and warm it, money is the last thing on your mind. You just left a momma cow at the gate calling out for her young one. That young one is wet and cold and too new to be strong enough to stand in such treacherous weather to nurse. That young calf deserves a fighting chance to thrive and grow. We do all we can to make sure that little guy gets warmed up, a little warm milk in its belly and can get back out to that concerned momma cow that is probably still at the gate where she last saw her calf.
Even though this year has been a challenging one, ranchers (and their herds) have taken it like champs. So now, as calving season winds down and we are getting excited for pasture season, my favorite thing is watching the calves race and play tag during feeding time. Even with all the tough days we had this year, the ranchers and the calves are surviving and thriving!
I wish everyone just the right amount of rain and sunshine…spring this year is just a little later than most years, but as I write this, I think it really is here!