What does it really mean to be a rancher’s wife? Anyone who knows anything about ranching knows calving is the most critical season for a rancher.
Around here we get long cold winters and lots of snow. The grass growing season is short. Cows are usually bred to calve in late February/early March. Ranchers like to have their calves up and going when the grass is growing. This maximizes each animal’s opportunity to graze green grass, and helps the cows stay in good condition after calving and raising a calf. The trick is, February usually comes with below freezing temperatures and snow.
This winter has been a hard one. Not just for us, but for everyone in our area.
Handy Husband and I have had cows before. We have both been around livestock from a young age. But this is the first year we have been all in as far as calving goes. It is safe to say we have both learned a lot.
The last several weeks have put into perspective what it means for me to be a supportive partner to my ranching husband. We walk this journey hand in hand, but we also have a newborn baby and two other young children. Because of where we are in life right now, he is the one primarily responsible for the livestock, and I play a supporting role. That said, I want to be clear that women don’t always play a supporting role in this industry and neither do I. There are plenty of bad ass ranching women out there. This is written from where I sit today.
#1 Put the Coffee On
Raising animals isn’t a job or a hobby, it is a lifestyle. Ranchers in this climate check cows every 2 to 3 hours around the clock. Catching a problem or missing a tragedy can happen in a matter of minutes. Handy Husband is working hard. 24 hours a day. No weekends and no breaks. Sleep is a broken series of cat naps in between constant monitoring. Handy Husband is checking cows at 5, 8, 10, 12, 2, and then up for the day at 4:45. After morning chores it is off to his day job. Put on a pot of coffee, he is going to need it.
#2 Take a Shift
Handy Husband has a day job. A job he works hard at and spends a great deal of time on. Because I am on maternity leave, I am home. The kids and I keep lookout during the day. When it is snowing we load up in the truck, but when we can, we walk. We walk through the cows at lunch time and when we pick E.J. up off the bus after school. We also cheat, we can see the majority of our cows from the house and deck. I monitor them in between diaper changes, feedings, snacks, stories, and coloring pages.
This is a family operation and we all pitch in. One early morning E.J. came running into the bedroom to get me. Handy Husband had already taken off for work. “Mom! Mom! Cow having a baby!” She was right! Our seven year old spotted a cow preparing to deliver and we were able to monitor her. It takes all of us doing what we can.
#3 Bottles should be warmed to 101 degrees
When a calf has a rough start, or a cow has a tough go of it, sometimes they need a head start. Being born in freezing temperatures puts the calf in a vulnerable state and they need colostrum immediately. Getting a warm bottle as quickly as possible can save the calf’s life. When we can, we milk the cow. Sometimes we are able to freeze any extra milk to use for another. If not we use a powdered colostrum. When Handy Husband calls me from the barnyard I turn on the burner and heat the bottle to 101 degrees F.
#4 Hay (and other such cow messes)
Oh the hay! One wouldn’t immediately identify hay as the messiest part of livestock ownership. The thing is the hay is not limited to a person’s boots and overalls in the same way some of your more potent messes are. Tiny bits of dried grass work their way into a large man’s beard, undershirt, and socks. I find evidence of it on everything that man touches! If you are going to be a rancher’s wife prepare yourself to sweep daily and still be amazed at the places hay turns up! Including a newborn baby’s eyelashes!
#5 Speaking of messes, have you got a laundry room? This is where the going gets rough.
Of the calves born on our place this year three of them took their last breath in my house in front of my woodstove. One final attempt to spark the will to live. These aren’t the adorable, doe eyed, fluffy, sorts. These are the ones clinging to life. They are really more mostly dead than barely alive. I talk to them, encouraging them to hang on. I rub their bodies in an attempt to get the blood flowing. But mostly, I get out my mop and I clean up after them. This is the hard part folks.
“If you have livestock, you are going to have dead stock.” – Oldtimer
I recently saw a social media post where a poster mentioned avoiding the more difficult side of this business. That is not me. My aim is to record and reflect on what is happening in my life. I am no expert, and I am learning everyday. Some days are hard.
I am tender hearted by nature. I love these babies and I have a hard time letting them go. It is nothing compared to finding the strength to encourage my husband.
I kindly remind him he did everything he could, hand him a cup of coffee, and send him back out into the cold for the next one.