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Neat and Tidy Calving


by Baxter Black, DVM

This is the time of year when cow people don’t get much sleep. If you boiled “raisin’ cattle” down to its bare bones, the whole business revolves around gettin’ a live calf on the ground.
Folks outside the wonderful world of calvin’ season probably have some peculiar ideas about what happens. Maybe they think a heifer calves like chickens lay eggs; nice and clean, no muss, no fuss. Others might picture a sterile operating room with attendants gathered around in masks and rubber gloves saying things like “Push!” and “Nurse, wipe my brow and clamp the cord!”
A neat, tidy procedure done in antiseptic surroundings, not unlike the manufacturing of venison sausage.
Neat is not the word I think of when assisting at a calving. But instead, insulated coveralls come to mind. As well as mud boots, chapped hands, rope burns, slippery chains, wet knees, sweating at 10 degrees above zero and midnight. In fact, calving involves a whole lot more than simply inserting a coin, punching a button and watching a can of Diet Coke be born with a thunk!
There’s that business-like confidence that guides you when you check the heifer pen before turning in. You see one that’s still trying. You can’t leave her in that condition all night so you get’er up and slog her into the trap or calvin’ shed. While you’re gatherin’ up the O.B. chains and pullin’ off your jacket, a wave of nervous worry washes over you and settles into your gut.
Anticipation builds as you reach in for your first feel around. Hope surges when you make the initial pull on the calf. If luck is on your side, an enormous sense of relief follows. If not, that sinkin’ feelin’ soaks in right down to your bones.
It’s then that you do what your calling in life has prepared you for. It’s done with all the experience, skill, compassion and dogged determination that you possess. The buck stops on your shoulders. It’s up to you and her to get the job done.
Finally, the calf comes. He plops down on the straw, wet and sleek as a porpoise. You tickle his nose, he snorts and shakes his head. You rub him down. You watch him struggle to three legs, fall, and then try again.
You pick up your stuff and back outta the pen leavin’ mama and baby alone. You stand there a minute. You hear her talk to him. She’s lickin’ his face.
The wind is cold on your back. Snowflakes melt on your cheek. In the presence of this miracle, you don’t notice.