Day 18 – Calving Season 2022 – Ode to the Helpers

Its almost 7:30am on Day 18 of calving.  I never blogged yesterday, in part because I went out with a friend last night and once home it was bedtime.  Russell and I have decided we need to get to bed earlier, we are both exhausted.  It is me that keeps us up late, we always go to bed together, so If I’m up puttering, just doing “one last thing” or putting the finishing touches on a blog, it means late nights sometimes.  The morning alarm then feels very hard to respond to for Russ, meanwhile I can sleep later.  SO, I am here now catching up on yesterday a bit and I have committed to Russ to quit my late night to do list.

It was a hard day.

It was a good day in lots of ways, we had nine calves born by 9am.  Our good news calf “Kiev” from day 16 was doing well.  Here is a video that Russell sent me of Kiev and her Mom leaving the little barn and moving into the pole shed with other established pairs.  This was heartwarming to see.

But it was a hard day.

It was so cold and windy which meant very harsh conditions for calves.  It was likely inevitable that I would have a calf come into the house.  That started early on, after Russell’s first check, he didn’t think the calf needed too much, mostly a warm up.  It turned out I had about three hours with it.  Despite my best efforts I did not make a lot of progress.  The calf was the son of “Kiss”, we named it “little Kiss”.  I made progress but it was hindered by little Kiss’s unwillingness to take anything from a bottle.  So he was warm and dry after lots of work but lacked vitality.  I made the judgment call to have him return to his mother.  Before he left Jill gave him a needle, an intra muscular injection of vitamins, not the exact formula recommended to us on Facebook after Day 16 blog but what we had on hand.  Morgan came and got him and did the fireman carry back to the barn, taking Kiev’s old spot.  When I checked him just before lunch he was not doing that well, Kiss was standing over him and looking at me with an expression that I thought meant, “help me.”   I called Russ.  He came in at lunch and said he didn’t think little Kiss was going to make it but he couldn’t do anything to assist at that point because when he tried to go in the pen Kiss wanted to kill him.  So.  I guess Kiss was not in the seeking help mindset I had guessed earlier.  The optimistic city girl strikes again.   Later conversation with Russ had me sitting at my desk, trying to work but feeling just horrible.  In those short hours I had bonded with little Kiss.

I made an adorable video of us together, one that made me proud of who I have become, and now the calf was suffering and probably dead.   Little kiss didn’t die, but was not thriving as we went to bed last night.  Russ had left the gates open so that Kiss could maybe leave and go into the shed but she did not leave and little Kiss persevered.  This morning I got a picture of the two of them, little kiss is still not looking just right, but she was not dead at daybreak.  I don’t know what to think.  I wish I had given her a little more of my time and patience, I should have got miracle worker Jill on the case earlier, I don’t know.

It was a hard day because the calves are coming very steady now and a little bit of a circus effect builds up.  Russ’s head is spinning, remembering who has calved and watching for good bonding, trying to figure out what he is seeing when he spots a calf on its own, the snow makes everything harder because the chance for everybody to be spread out is not there in the same way.  Keeping the cows crowded together heightens the chance of disease and parental confusion, occasionally after a bad snow storm Russ has four cows claiming the same calf, and abandoning their own and all “fighty”.   Its just a tricky circus and it looks like it will be for a few days more.  Russ is tired.

It was a hard day because we are starting to glimpse a pattern.  Its our 2nd calf heifers who seem to be having the calves that are not thriving, or who are not thriving as Moms.  Russell’s theory is that the hard winter we just got through took a toll on these girls who were not as big or fat as our more established cow herd.  They struggled more.  We hate that. 

So, a day that is a litany of hard things is a good day to celebrate the helpers.  They bolster us a great deal.  The week we have put in was boosted by friendship, by random acts of generosity and by solidarity.   Shortly after the blizzard day we had times when two different local cowboys came to ride with Russell and Morgan, to assess the herd and move it in for the night.  Strictly speaking it was not necessary, but it was nice, someone to listen to Russell and Morgan’s stories, to share a joke with, to share the scope of what we are doing.  So these cowboys, Laurie, a cousin who works in the oilfield and David, our friend who runs an autobody shop in town, had the instinct to draw near and see and do what we were seeing and doing.  It meant a lot.  With no pictures from their time this week I pulled some old ones to put some visual to their presence with us.

David and Laurie working with us on a December day in 2020. (A Liz Griffin Photography image.)
Laurie at the start of our longest cowchase that we must do – October 2, 2021 (A Liz Griffin Photography image.)
David hard at work – December 2020 (A Liz Griffin Photography image.)

Last year a manager with Athena Oilfield told Russ they could help us out if we needed it.  “Be sure to ask” was the message Russ got, so when Russ saw a snowblower clearing one of their lease roads near to our working chute at the calving pasture he made the call.  The end result is that we had some professional snow clearing equipment on the job clearing a spot where Russ had already spent two hours cleaning out.  Blowing snow meant Russ was already almost getting stuck again.  After the job was done Russ could bring the truck into the loading chute at the pasture and had enough space to get turned around as well.   What a gift to us.

Russ took this picture from the skidsteer, its not great but you can see that green blower on the back of the bigger tractor on the left.

We had some offers of help that we didn’t need to call on but it is sure nice to know that people are ready to help.    

A fellow we are only barely acquainted with called to offer Russ an extra trailer and diesel generator he had, wondered if we might need them to warm calves.  It would not have been easy to get to us with these items but he was willing to try.

A neighbor who lives about 5 miles away called Russ during the blizzard to offer his help.  He doesn’t have cattle anymore.  I could not imagine how he was even going to get here, but he was willing to leave his people and try.  That is solidarity. 

Neighbors who live further, and have cows, but are at a different point with calving called to offer to come over and help, again, how would they even get here?  Hard times bring out people’s courage and stamina like nothing else.

Numerous people checked in with Russell and I during the days, sharing strength with us by their concern for us.

So day 17 was a hard day but a good day to ponder what blessings we have known, the kind of blessings that severely soften the blow of the hard days we can’t escape.  Our United Church creed starts off “we are not alone, we live in God’s world.” I have that in my head as I ponder all that I shared today.

And here is a latebreaking update……just about to hit the Publish button and I got this 13 second video from Russell.

After this another video came through, but it was pretty fuzzy, Russ had to tell me, it was a video of little kiss actually taking milk from its Mom. Thats the magic! I am feeling soothed by this development, and thankful.