Thursday, February 10, 2011

Giving Bovine Babies a Fighting Chance

By Brenda Black

Soak it up! Bask in it! Run outside and throw back your head, close your eyes and just enjoy it! Hello SUN! Now that you got that out of your system, brace yourself, because we still have a ways to go until it is officially spring. My guess is most folks would welcome the season about three weeks early this blustery year. Those most ready would have to be cattle farmers.

Up until the past couple of years, the idea of calving in February seemed clever for Missouri. Sort of a head start on gains for bigger, better weanlings later in the year. After this second year in a row of massive snow, we're thinking it's time to push that back a bit farther for next year. Like maybe April when the birds are singing and the grass is greening instead of freezing!

Like it or lump it, calving started whether the weather cooperated or not this season. While one of our calves was born prior to the 2011 blizzard, it was still a pretty frosty morn. And it took plenty of extra loving attention to make sure she survived her first week. We employed a barn to block the wind and offered ample feed and water to her mama to keep the warm milk flowing for baby.

Two more little black calves waited till the first storm passed, but were then born during arctic blast number two and arrived back to back. One on Tuesday. I named him "Black Blizzard." One came in the wee hours of Thursday around 4 a.m., born to a cow with #8 hanging on her ear. His name shall be "Eight Below". He's dubbed after his mama AND the mercury reading!

Suffice it to say, all three of these calves were feisty fighters to be born on such bitter days and have thrived in spite of the harsh elements. But sometimes it takes more than natural instincts and shear determination to adhere to the law of the fittest. At times like we've experienced in the past couple of weeks, it takes humane care, sacrifice and lots of extra attention.

We can't keep all the cows so close to the house, but for the rookies in the herd, we try to keep a close eye on them. So I am thankful for the warm hay barn to shelter them in their first hours and for a husband who will fight frost bite and sleepless nights and even pack a 70-pound, slimy wet critter a hundred yards to the house to make sure that baby gets everything it needs for a healthy start.

As for me, I'm right there pulling my shift at ten and midnight and two a.m. if needed. I hold the gates and flashlights and offer experienced mothering advice. I open doors en route to the laundry room floor where we offer colostrum and I talk to and sooth and rub the damp from bovine babies before returning them to their mothers.

Farming is chores and responsibility. It is taking seriously the charge to care for land and beast. More than anything, it is a privilege to be God's loving hands and strong backs when these animals we cherish need some help.

To fellow beef cowboys who have braved the elements this month and triumphed over record-breaking mercury drops...and to those who have sadly lost some of their herd in the fight against impossible odds...I tip my hat to all of you. Because I know if I were to ask any of these hard-working, dedicated souls why in the world they go to such lengths. They would just humbly say, "It's my life and my job. I do what I have to do."

God bless you!

*For more farm stories, get your copy of Were You Born in a Barn at

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