Calving is now in full swing, with one or two new additions to the herd each day. It seems the old Hereford bull did pretty well for himself before he injured his foot and had to be pulled from pasture with the cows. A majority of the calves bear his markings – either patches of white on the face or full white-faced baldy calves. One little heifer calf has the face of a jack-o-lantern with eyes, nose and mouth of white lighting up her otherwise red coat. The mixing of Hereford genes into the Angus herd gives the calves hybrid vigor, thus avoiding the pitfalls of inbreeding. They sure are cute little creatures. It is amusing to watch them– those that are a few days old are romping around with their anxious mothers following them at full trot, occasionally bellowing as if to say “get back here!”
The placement of our cabin allows us to see about half of the calving yard right out the kitchen window. With binoculars, I have watched two cows give birth at the far end of the lot. After their babies arrive in the world, the cows begin vigorously licking them dry, and urging them to get up. The calves shake their heads occasionally, their wet ears dangling down heavily against their necks. Shortly after birth, they begin to try to stand up. It takes several attempts before they are successful. Up goes the back end, and then plop back down. Again, up goes the back, and this time the front legs make it part way up before collapsing, and the calf tumbles onto its head. After a brief rest, the calf tries again. A few more tumbles, and he manages to stay up on all fours, wobbling unsteadily for a few moments. Sometimes the vigor of a cow’s licking pushes the calf right back down. But with each attempt, the calf gets stronger. He is determined to find his mothers’ teats so he can nurse. Usually within a half hour, calves are up, mostly dry, and sucking their first meal contentedly.
It is simply amazing to watch nature take its course. The cows’ instincts for maternal behavior allow the process to unfold gracefully. Everybody seems to know what to do on cue. It is rare that we have to intervene and lend a helping hand. So far the births have gone smoothly. We keep a close eye on the herd, checking them every three hours. Bart and I have gotten into a good rhythm that allows us to maximize continuous sleep. I check the cows at nine PM and midnight, and Bart goes out at three and six AM. Under the darkness of the new moon, I absorb the stillness of night while I walk through the herd, looking for signs of cows in labor. We couldn’t have asked for easier weather for calving. The days are mild, fifty and even sixty degrees, with nights hovering right around freezing. It is a blessing for birthing, but surely odd weather for February. All across the countryside, there are patches of green grass. I am a lover of all four seasons; it just doesn’t feel right to skip over winter. At least we had one solid month of cold and snow. Brisk cross-country ski journeys allowed me to cherish cozy nights at home with cocoa by the fire. But since late January, it has been mild enough to go out without a coat and hat during the day. This year is simply abnormal. The Snowy Mountains loom on the northern horizon, still blanketed in white. At least there is some moisture in the mountains to keep our rivers running this spring.