It had been a brutal week. After several days of sunshine, with temperatures in the 50s, the early March weather had transformed back into the nasty wench I’d grown accustomed to over the years. And, of course, this relapse back into more familiar, yet unwelcome, weather territory naturally coincided with the advent of my calving season. I’d been living off of just two or three hours of sleep each night, as I’d been philandering with the trollops in the heifer pasture. Yes, calving season is a cruel mistress whose cold embrace offers little noticeable reward until her passing.

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Freelance Writer
Paul Marchant is a rancher and freelance writer in southern Idaho. Follow Paul Marchant on X (@pm...

We’d suffered through several consecutive nights of alternating blizzards and bitterly cold temperatures. Consequently, I’d been compelled to rescue several baby calves whose welcome to the world had been a harsh and icy greeting. The issue then became mothering them back up, which usually posed little problem, except for an issue or two with a naïve or reluctant heifer now and then.

One cold night, with the temperatures hovering somewhere in the low teens, I discovered a heifer that seemed to be taking more time with the parturition process than I was comfortable with. Eventually, I decided I’d have to give her a little assistance. Not wanting to make the job bigger than it had to be, aided by my pickup headlights, I was able to put the sneak on the heifer from behind and get some baling twine looped around the calf’s front pasterns. Before the unsuspecting heifer even knew I was there, I gave a tug or two and calf slipped right out. I couldn’t have scripted the scene any better. I tiptoed back to the warmth of the cab of the truck and backed away from the maternity scene, hoping not to tip the balance of nature out of my favor. I gave the new mother about 10 minutes before I eased back on over to the far east end of the heifer pasture and the scene of the recent birth. The heifer hadn’t yet stood up, so I casually walked toward her to offer a little encouragement to her matronly instincts. I thought I’d hit a home run when the new mama jumped up, turned around and began licking her new posterity. But my joy was as short-lived, as was her apparent desire to be a mother. After no more than 30 seconds, the reluctant mother trotted off to the other end of the little pasture. The temperature and the prevailing weather were not in the calf’s favor, so I gathered up the wet little baby before she turned into a veal popsicle and placed her on the floor of the cab where the truck’s heater could do its magic. I made another round around the heifer pastures and made my way to the shop where I mixed up a batch of colostrum for the baby and stuck her in the hot box for the rest of the night.

The next morning, I coaxed the heifer up to the barn where I could jug the new pair up in a 12-by-12 maternity pen. To my pleasant surprise, the calf was pretty keen to nature’s prompting and latched right on to a breakfast spigot. To my even greater surprise, the somewhat circumspect mother warily accepted her destiny and, without much opposition, allowed her baby to suck. I left them in the jug pen for a day and then turned them both out into the bigger pen with some other heifers where I wouldn’t have to pack water and feed to them.

Later that afternoon, I noticed that the new calf had slipped through the manger panel on the fence and found her a comfortable bed in the hay. I wasn’t too concerned, figuring it was a pretty nice arrangement and that the calf could easily find its way back to its mother. To my dismay, however, after a long afternoon of fighting the mud, the cold, the wind and pretty much all that a southern Idaho spring squall could offer, when I returned just before dark to check on the pair, the calf was nowhere to be found. I could follow her tracks along the fence in the frozen snow for a few feet, but they disappeared in an array of dog and bird tracks that adorned the fenceline. I was mildly distraught as I vainly searched up and down the creek directly across the road from where the calf had apparently made her escape, even though I could find no tracks in the snow to indicate that’s where she might be. I let a few cuss words fly into the cold evening air, and, in desperate need to find someone or something to blame, and with no evidence whatsoever to support such a claim, came to the somewhat illogical conclusion that some passerby must have stolen the calf. After all, I’d heard that day-old beef-dairy cross calves were worth somewhere around $700. I didn’t suspect any of my neighbors, and I hadn’t noticed any strange vehicles; nevertheless, I didn’t have to work too hard to convince myself that skullduggery was afoot.


That night was more peaceful than any night of the previous week, and when daylight edged out the darkness that morning, it revealed a clear blue sky – a welcome respite from the sharp edges and hard blows of an unsympathetic winter. As my dogs greeted me with wagging tails and happy canine yowls, I heard another sound that further brightened my morning. It was the sound of a healthy and hungry baby calf crying for breakfast. I stopped and listened. Again came the welcome bawl. I trotted over to the corner where the fence meets the back of the barn. Sure enough, there was my missing calf.

I reunited mama and baby. Like the beautiful clear sky, my outlook on life was much brighter than it had been the night before. I uttered a silent and grateful prayer as I dove into the morning chores. Gratitude had replaced my lust for blame. Appreciation had replaced despair. It felt good and it felt right, and I, at least for the moment, marveled at the feeling, realizing that the light of a grateful heart will always outshine the shadows of gloom – regardless of the circumstances or the weather.