Sunday, May 1, 2011

Saving Lives

This post was written by Adam.

I'm positive you are well aware of the fact that policemen, doctors, nurses, paramedics, firemen, and mission workers save lives, but did you know farmers and ranchers save lives too? Every life counts and every life is just as important as the next. However, the lives I speak of today are the lives of the baby calves in our cattle herd.

Our herd is what we call a 'spring' herd, meaning our calves are born from early January until spring begins. Sometimes I question why we put ourselves through this, with all the cold weather and snow, but this is the time of year when we have time to tend to cattle. Spring calving just fits into our farming operation the best.

During calving we sometimes have to give the calf or the mother just a little bit of help. Whether it's snowing, raining, or the wind is blowing 30mph, when the cow decides it's time to have a calf, it's time to have a calf! As you read in a previous post on this blog we try to accommodate our cattle the best we can. We give them a place to get out of the wind and a dry place to lie down. January, February and March can offer up a lot of challenges as far as weather goes. Once April rolls around the weather starts straightening up, and we are wrapping up the calving season. We always have a few cows that think they have to wait until the grass is green and it's warm before the time comes to have their calf. This was the case with one of my dad's first calf heifers. She was the very last one to calve and we were waiting patiently for her to go into labor. We could tell she was getting close, so we put her in a smaller pen close to the house. We kept a close eye on her due to the fact this was her first calf.

The heifer had her calf on Wednesday, April 20th. My dad had left at 5:30am that morning to go to one of our fields in Missouri and spray ground that will be planted to corn. Since it was early, it was dark when he left and he wasn't able to check on the heifer. I arrived at my dad's house at about 6:30am and I checked on the heifer when I got there.

I walked down to the barn and I see the heifer just standing there at the hay feeder, eating away like nothing's going on. The thing is, she has after birth hanging out, like she's had a calf, but I don't see one in the pen. This is when I spot the calf; stretched out in a mud hole. The stupid heifer had the darn calf right in the mud. She had an entire dry pen to lie down in, but nope, she decides to spit out the calf right in the mud. It had been born during the night, and been struggling for awhile. I thought the calf was dead until I saw its head move.

By this time I have let out my frustration by saying a few choice words and then I was thinking-I gotta save this calf. I hurry and go get a 5 gallon bucket and fill it with hot water and I grabbed a bunch of old towels out of the house. I washed the calf off the best I could and dried her off with the towels. Then I picked her up, covering my clothes with stinkin' mud and water and carry the calf to the barn. I went to the house and mixed up a bottle of colostrum milk (extra nutritious milk a calf needs when it is first born) and run down and feed it a bottle. The calf was worn out, and still kind of cold and very reluctant to drink out of a bottle for the first time in its life. So I thought, ok-she's got some milk in her, she'll be fine. By this time it's about 7:15am and I went home and changed clothes because I was filthy.

I came back about noon and gave her another half bottle, because she had never gotten up and nursed from her mother. The calf needed some more energy, because she spent it all trying to get out of that stupid mud hole. I go on with my day and come back about 3pm and check on it, because I was concerned. I was so happy when I walked down to the barn and she is up nursing on the cow. I DID IT! I SAVED ITS LIFE! I watched the calf for a little while, and after a healthy dose of mom's milk, she runs and kicks and bucks around, like any little calf should do.

Yes! Success! The calf was up running around!

I called my dad and gave him the good news. If any of you know my dad, you know he doesn't get excited very often, or very much, or at all. I told him, "I saved the calf's life! It is up nursing and running around, and I did it!" He gives me a very somber, "good." I didn't need to hear it from him, I was just so happy and relieved at the same time that we will have another calf at the end of the year that probably wouldn't be here if I hadn't been there to help it along.

We depend on these cattle as a source of income in our farming operation. Every calf is just as important as the next. If a calf doesn't make it, then my dad or I won't have the income from that calf when the time comes to sell them. We can't work weekends or overtime to make up for a lost calf, once it's gone-it's gone. That's it. Losing a calf means the loss of income, plus the fact that we will sell the cow because she is no longer a productive member of the herd, since she's not raising a calf during the summer.

A few pictures of the healthy calf that almost didn't make it.

Raising cattle is a very rewarding and satisfying profession, but also a risky and heartbreaking one at the same time. I imagine it is a similar situation for a doctor, paramedic, nurse, policeman or a firefighter. There are days when you come home from work and share the good news about saving a life that day. You are overjoyed and ecstatic because you were there and helped someone (or in this case a calf) live another day. However, there are also days when you come home and your heart aches and the feelings of sadness overwhelm you because you did everything you could, and the life you tried to save did not make it. The day I saved this calf was a great day. I was on cloud nine; relishing in the fact I saved a life. I'm grateful the calf survived and I didn't have to write about the other side of the story.

A farmer or rancher may not be in the business of saving human lives but we take great pride in doing everything possible to save the life of one of our animals. Contrary to what the media may have you believe, farmers and ranchers care about their livestock and are always willing to go the extra mile to save a calf, and protect the members of our herd.

If you have any questions about raising cattle, the handling practices we use or anything else please don't hesitate to leave a question in the comment box.

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