Several weeks ago, Terry called me early one morning, having left to feed cows an hour before. "Guess what I found?", he asked. "You did not", I replied. "Yep, waiting for me when I got here", he said. My voice got low & quiet. "Dead?" More a statement than a question.
It's a reality on the farm. We don't have to like it. We don't have a choice. It doesn't matter whether it breaks our hearts, or breaks our bottom line. Sometimes we don't get to make the rules. Mother Nature is a patient teacher, never wavering, giving the same lessons time & again.
Like that morning. We weren't scheduled to start calving until the end of March. If we'd had any inkling one of the Mama cows was going to calve 2 1/2 months early, we'd certainly have brought her into the barn & bedded her down. Would never have left her out in the impending storm. But calve she did. In the early morning hours. On one of the coldest, windiest, snowiest nights of the year. The wind chill factor had the temperature hovering around 20 below zero Fahrenheit. And that little calf didn't stand a chance. Not much of one anyway.
I said that Mother Nature is a patient teacher. And on that day, She reminded us of the lessons of perseverance, strength, wisdom, & new life. Terry found the calf buried in straw, tucked right up next to a windbreak. His Mama instinctively knew, wisdom whispered to her from deep in her DNA, that he needed to be warm. I can imagine her searching, even as she labored, to find a place where her baby would be safe from savage environment he would be born to. After he was delivered, she would have licked him clean... not only dry him to help further protect him from the elements, but to clean him so his scent wouldn't attract opportunistic predators. She would have sung her soft 'moo' in his ear, & gently nudged him to stand & nurse for the first time, getting essential colostrum he would need to build his immune system. Her mothering instincts are strong-- bred in her through countless generations. Once he was settled, sleeping, conserving energy, she would have stood guard. There in the dark, in the shelter of the wind break as the storm raged on. Keeping a watchful eye, leaving his side only long enough to eat & drink to support her own needs. Snuffing at him every so often, & moving more straw around his tiny body. And when morning finally came and Terry arrived, she would nervously allow him to move her & her baby to the barn to get the help the calf would need to survive. And he did survive. early calfTerry tucked him into the hot box... a special box designed to blow warm air on the calf to warm it up. Within hours, he was up & back with his Mama. And days later, despite the persistent cold, he was bucking & tearing around the corrals like he owned the place.
I've seen it a hundred times, and still, every time, I'm filled with awe. Profoundly aware of the miracle unfolding in front of me. The innate survival skills a Mama cow possesses. The sheer will to live in a baby calf. It's primordial. And it's humbling.
I'm looking forward to the calving season, just like I do every Spring. It's my favorite time of year. (Although I think I may have said that about harvest as well!) It brings the opportunity to rejoice & celebrate new life with every new born calf. And the opportunity to practice the virtues of strength & perseverance with each loss. And in all of it, a renewed respect for these life lessons.