The rush of fumbling for the calf jack in the middle of the night, the frustration of pasture roping on foot, the blind luck of being able to tie off a distressed cow in labor to the only oak tree on the hill, the agony of pulling a dead calf and the thrill of delivering a live one—these are experiences that define calving season and make ranching one of the most rewarding lifestyles on earth.
Through it all, both human and bovine personalities are put to the test and what results is a better understanding of the crossover that exists where labor and delivery are concerned.
First-time mothers can be the most entertaining. The process begins as the first calf heifers start wondering why they are gaining so much weight and are moved closer to the barn and subsequently pestered diligently throughout the day and night (because they enjoy depriving humans of sleep, they WILL calve in the middle of the night). The shock and awe of delivering their first baby is overridden (most of the time) by instinct and the miraculous methods of motherhood kick in as they clean up and encourage their spindly-legged little ones to begin nursing.
Occasionally they calve in tandem and play a fun game of “This is my baby, wait no, this is your baby. Where’s my baby? Did he roll under the fence again?” They tell their expectant sisters who are peering through the fence that they will be next and that it is true that all of that excess baby weight will drop once they start nursing.
Another bovine parental experience that can be slightly more dangerous is the seasoned, overprotective mother. We all know not to get between a crossbred Brahma cow and her calf. Once you hear those large ears popping against her head, it is too late. She is already in the process of popping you. In a situation where such a mother has been trailered to the barn for parental assistance (aka her teats are so large that not even a feedlot calf can wrap its tongue around them), be aware that in tight barn quarters, the victim should be prepared to employ the best “tuck and roll” he or she can muster at the moment. The bottom wooden panel in all catch pens really should have clearance for a human to roll beneath.
Brahma mamas aside, the Angus crossbred variety can possess their own breed of maternal quirks. For some reason, my sister’s best friend-cow Miranda insists on her own twisted version of a helicopter mom. She sees fit to attack the other mother’s calves every fall after she delivers her spawn into the world. This year, she strangely experienced an odd form of postpartum depression in which she calved and had no clue that little Rita was her own flesh and blood. Sis brought both of them to the barn to help her better understand her situation. Her hypnosis was cured once Rita called for Miranda in a magical “You’re my mama, and dang it, I’m hungry” kind of way. Miranda is now back to her old self, insisting that her baby is the best baby and terrorizing the other calves.
For mamas that are less prone to drama, there’s the welcome yearly transition to motherhood that gives them a reason to show emotion. Sweet Reddy is so laid back you can walk up and pet her most of the year, until she calves. Her big red forehead wrinkles with kind concern as she keeps watch over her pride and joy every minute of the day. She figures that she shows enough love to her baby without any extra help from humans.
But we humans are there, just in case one of the mothers-to-be needs a little extra help in the calving department. Because we know the other mother, Mother Nature, isn’t always in our favor, we will continue to harass first calf heifers with midnight flashlight forays and spend hours hunting down missing calves that were clearly told to stay put in a briar patch. We too care about those little ones like they are our own and don’t want to miss out on being a part of the blessed rite of motherhood.