Instead, preparations are being done – corrals get a final cleaning; tags get premade; and the hot-box room is restocked. It is the season we love to hate – long hours, little rest and the threat of bad weather and illness seems to make a span of six weeks feel more like six months.
Calving season seems to be the one time of year that the general public really takes an interest in what local ranchers are doing. Of course, when you have a job in town, you become sort of the liaison between what is really happening at home and what city dwellers imagine what is going on at home. I rarely get more questions about what we do on the ranch than through calving time, so I will share five tips with both cattle people and those who are agriculturally challenged as to how to deal with the season without upsetting anyone.
1. “How many calves have you lost this year?” is never a valid question.
Do not ever ask a rancher this. Just like our own children, we want our calves to be healthy and productive; it is heartbreaking to lose even one. If you ask, be prepared for a harsh answer or no answer at all.
2. “Why are you so tired? I mean, it isn’t like you’re the one giving birth!”
True. The cows are the ones doing that job, but that leaves the rancher to do everything from feeding, tagging, banding, cleaning stalls, kicking out pairs, making tags, updating the record book, bottle-feeding bum calves, riding and whatever else happens during the day (or night).
3. For those of us in the thick of the work, remember No. 3: Have a good sense of humor.
When the boss hollers at you for not cleaning the pens just right, for using too much straw (or not enough), for not making the tags readable or for putting the tags on backwards, just remember to laugh. I am pretty sure they learned the hard way, too.
4. When working cows with your spouse, girls, remember that no matter what you do, it will never be quite as “right” as the way he does it.
And you know what? That isn’t always a bad thing. Heck, he probably has to work twice as hard as you just because he doesn’t have the finesse or the patience you do. Keep your chin up.
Guys, don’t forget to thank your wife. There is a really good chance that, if given the choice, she might just lock herself in that nice, warm house with the kids and enjoy the show from the living room window. Trust me here.
5. Speak gently, but carry a good stick.
For those of you who have never had the pleasure of getting in between a mother cow and her calf, let me explain: The stick is mostly there for moral support. If a momma cow decides she would rather eat you for lunch than let you put an ear tag in her calf’s ear, there is not much that is going to stop her. Including the stick, whose only job at that point is to give the person holding it assistance in getting up to find cover!
Whether you are gearing up to deliver bovine babies or are well on your way to being done, I wish you the best of luck. May the good Lord bless you all with healthy cows and calves, decent weather, good help and maybe a little extra patience to get you through calving time!
Richelle Barrett is a part-time cattle rancher and full-time wife and mother on a north-central Montana operation. You can learn more about her on her blog.
PHOTO: Don't underestimate the protective power of the momma cow in calving season. Photo provided by Richelle Barrett.