by Stacy Lash, Accounting & Social Media
It’s Springtime! Or at least as close as we may ever get. Winter seems to be lingering on as though time itself has paused. I’m not sure about you, but I’m sick of winter. My body craves warmth and fresh air and the eruption of life that is bound to come any day now. I can see the signs. The ground is softening, leaving potholes in the roads and turning driveways into mud pits. The snow is receding and is almost gone. A few more days or a little more rain and the ground will be clear. My father says that the snow is what keeps it cold. That once it melts off the sun’s rays can penetrate and banish the frost in the ground. I’m not entirely sure if he’s right. It seems like regardless of snow cover, it tends to warm up in April. I’m thinking that this year, it’ll be more like May.
Even though the human beings in my family have been plotting out the assassination of Punxsutawney Bill, the critters in our lives know something is stirring. Three weeks ago we welcomed a baby ram into the family, two weeks ago a ewe. As tiny as they are, they don’t seem bothered by the cold. It’s surprising as delicate as they are. Their wee hooves so soft you can dent them if you press too hard. Their silky coats that haven’t filled in completely. They have been in the pasture kicking up their heels and playing. The sort of thing I’d like to be doing if there were grass on the ground and not remnants of the recent ice age.
Daddy came home from the barn a few days ago and announced that we were about to have another baby born. This time the bovine kind. Mama Cow is due any day now. My father has been checking her night and day, afraid that she’ll “go” when he’s not around to help. My father the midwife. It’s a family tradition. As far back as I can remember we raised cows. My first memorable memories were of the barn. When other kids were playing with plastic toys, the kids in my family were dragging around baby cows on leashes like they were dogs. Or, more often than not, the cows dragged us around. You can’t imagine how much power a 70lb calf has, even up against a full grown human.
It was the most amazing honor to be summoned to the barn in the middle of the night by my grandfather, Papa. We would stay up all night waiting for the call. Sleep was never an option. We’d lie awake in bed, wondering if it would be a bull or a heifer. If we could help pull if it got stuck. Then the back door would creak open and we’d hear his heavy footsteps. He’d try to keep quiet coming through the kitchen so he didn’t wake Nany up. Then he’d stand at the bottom of the stairs and whisper up, “Get yer shit-kickers on.” By the time we flipped on the light switch and got dressed, the only thing remaining in the house was the lingering scent of Papa’s Pall Mall. We’d race for the door, fly down the backyard to the barn, tripping over each others feet and falling flat on our faces in the rush. It was always cold on birthing nights. The cows didn’t seem to have the good sense to give birth during the balmy early summer. March and April seemed to be their preference. Once we hit the barn it was warm. The heat of the animals kept it toasty inside. Papa would meet us at the door and if we were too noisy, he’d whisper (harshly) “Hark it!” Then we’d pick our way around the stanchions to the hind end of the cow.
Mama Cow would be chewing her cud like nothing big was about to happen. A foot-long shimmering trail of clear mucous would be dangling from her privates (if you can actually call an animal’s external genitalia “private”). Papa called it jizzum. I’m not sure that these days that term would float, but who am I to judge?
Anyways, after the mucous comes a hoof surrounded by a pearly, bluish sack. Every so often she’d hunch up and strain and the hoof would poke farther out. She’d continue chewing her cud; Papa would stroke her withers and scratch her forehead. He had a special relationship with his cows. They even had their own personal television and radio. He said that it kept them company when he wasn’t around, which was typically just enough time for him to catch a cat nap each night. Papa spent the greater extent of his life in and around the barn.
After a little bit, the sack would extend farther out and the tip of the calf’s nose would appear. Another push and a blocky head would pop out. Usually just minutes later, if all went as planned, the full length of the calf would slowly slip out and it would dangle briefly before plopping to the ground. The first time I saw this I was in an utter panic. When a calf falls to the ground, they are limp and lifeless looking. They don’t move, they don’t have any sort of tone to indicate their body is working, and they don’t breathe immediately. It’s terrifying.
Papa would rush to the calf and swirl his fingers around its mouth, pulling out any mucous blocking its airway. He’d give it a slap on it’s hind end to startle it and then… miraculously, it would spring to life. Its little calf-head would lift up, eyeballs rolling around. Mama Cow would come over and begin licking it. Steam would rise from its fluid-slicked body. The scent of amniotic fluid would flood the barn. My cousins and I would stand with our mouths wide open and our hearts pounding. We were so lucky.
Thirty years later, and I still get the same rush of excitement when it’s calving time. I still stay up all night on red-alert, unable to sleep for all the adrenaline rushing through my veins. The only difference being that it’s not Papa that wakes me up now, it’s Daddy. And the person that I prevent from sleeping is my husband. Calving never gets old. Maybe because to me it heralds the turn of the season. It lets me know that all the time I spent hating winter is about to end. It gives me the fresh burst of life that I need to get through those final depressing weeks of cold and dead. So here’s to hoping that Mama Cow calves out this weekend. Because not only will that mean Spring is truly here, but I’ll have a sweet hay-scented baby calf to play with this summer!
Here is a slideshow of one of our cows giving birth a few years ago.
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March 22, 2014 / Stacy Bettencourt / 1
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