Do you suppose spring is just around the corner? There are a few signs that give us hope. Yesterday, as a bush rabbit dashed across the road in front of me I noticed his coat. No, it wasn’t a blue jacket with brass buttons, as Beatrix Potter famously depicted in her stories of Peter, but I did glimpse a few brown patches across his back before he scurried under a thick caragana hedge.
Another hint spring is on the way is calving has begun in earnest here on the farm, as I’m sure it has across the prairies. It’s a busy and exhausting time of year for folks who raise cattle, with many sleepless nights ahead. Dad and Bill keep careful records and have a fair idea who will calve and when, but there are always a few surprises and sad losses along with the thrill of new life.
One evening last week I walked through the door of the farmhouse, balancing two plates on my arm. For the past few years I’ve either taken supper over to my deserving father, or he trods across the creek to enjoy a meal with us.
As a small aside, it may be noted dad is running a pretty good racket in connection to this daily event. After morning chores he has no concern over lunch preparation. He merely washes up and turns an eager eye toward the kitchen at Bill’s house in anticipation of a fine midday meal. Likewise, I provide the aforementioned hot supper. Once, I caught him surreptitiously explaining the situation to a neighbour.
“Boy I tell you what, it’s a great deal,” he exclaimed, leaning back in his chair with a pleased grin. Then, rubbing his hands together with invisible soap, he continued, “I’ve cut my grocery bill by almost 80 per cent!”
But, back to my story.
As I stood on the carpet kicking off my boots, a sudden movement caught my eye. There on a blanket by the heater lay a small white calf. It had been born during the night and wasn’t doing well, so dad and Bill carried him inside to warm up and have a chance at life. They’d briskly rubbed him with an old towel to help dry him off and encourage blood flow, then gotten a dose of colostrum (the important first milk mother provides) into his stomach.
Sadly, it hadn’t made much difference. As I set my dishes on the table my heart went out to the little guy. Ultimately, he didn’t make it.
During our last blizzard, a cow began to calve while she was out eating with the others. Unbeknownst to anyone, this nutty cow left the group, cleared a nearby barbed wire fence and struck out toward a thick bluff. Unfortunately, this search for privacy would cost everyone dearly as she gave birth to a set of twins in the swirling snow. Both perished in the deep drifts. Shaking his head that evening, Bill announced her fate; a one-way trip to the stockyard.
Two days later the oldest cow in the herd also had twins. She was a bit wiser however, and made herself comfortable in the deep bed of greenfeed Bill had laid out that morning. Sadly though, she singled out only one calf to care for and butted the other one away.
Repeatedly it tottered unsteadily to her side only to be knocked down by her huge swinging head or kicked aside. Eventually the calf, worn-out from struggling, flopped to the ground and gave up.
Amazingly, a pair of watchful eyes had been following this turn of events with interest. The bereaved cow (from two days ago) picked her way toward the small unwanted calf lying in the straw. She sniffed him over carefully, then commenced a thorough licking, head to tail. He accepted these attentions gratefully before standing and making his way to her udder for much needed nourishment. They’ve been inseparable ever since; her life sentence pardoned.
My grandson Kayden and I stood together in the barn as I told him these cattle stories of both delight and disappointment. It’s an exciting time to visit the farm. He helped great-grandpa bottle-feed a young calf, took oats to the horses and despite wrinkling his nose a little at the “smell” in the barnyard, enjoyed being part of life on the farm in springtime.
At least – we can always hope spring is on its way.