Mama cows and baby calves… That is what fills my cowboy’s spring days on the ranch. Since our place is at the base of the Crazy Mountains and in a “snow bowl” we don’t start calving until March, considered late compared to our neighbors. Blue skies and warmer temperatures make up the difference, although there are those freak spring storms that can last well into June.
I remember the first calf of this year… My cowboy and I were at dinner at our neighbor’s place. Having hurried home from town and weighed down by numerous life/wedding worries, I was grumpy and not too excited to have to socialize. I was running late and Cowboy rode over to our dinner date with some friends. The weather was miserable cold, icy roads and driving snow – only adding to my dismal mood. I made it through dinner and was relieved and grateful when Cowboy said we were heading out because of the weather and my long day. Climbing into the cold truck and with Cowboy behind the wheel, I shivered and tried not to think of all the things I had to do when I got home. “Tough day?” my cowboy asked as he reached over and warmed my fingers with his. I didn’t answer, just nodded and sighed, “I have something that might cheer you up” – I grunted in response, “Unlikely.” Instead of staying on the road to take us home, Cowboy turned towards the cowbarn, with its fenced driveway. I started to complain but I was cut-off by him, saying he just had to check something and that I could warm up inside and wait. I followed him into the barn and was surprised to see the lights on over the pens, that were usually empty until calving season. Sure enough, still damp and nursing hungrily, was a tiny baby calf, black as coal. Instantly, my mood lifted and the stress released in my shoulders. The first calf heifers were not supposed to start for another 15 days and with the chilly weather and gray skies, I had forgotten that spring and calving season were approaching. And yet, here this little one was, announcing the beginning of a new year. This was this cow’s first calf, an event that usually went well but occasionally resulted in a cow who would not want her calf, rejecting him or killing him. This cow, however, was the moo-ing gently to her new baby, watching him and standing patiently as he nursed. As his mother doted on him, licking him until he was dry and clean, I could not help but feel a twinge of excitement. Excitement for April, when calving would be in full swing and I would go with Cowboy to check cows and tags newborn calves. Excitement for May, when the calves would play with their herd-mates and then collapse exhausted into the grass, napping in the sunshine. And even excited for the day, probably years off in the future, that Cowboy and I would have our own babies, so helpless and miraculous themselves. I smiled to myself at the thought and stole a glance at my cowboy, who leaned comfortably against the panel separating us from the cow and her calf. Someday, he would bring our kids to see the first calf of the year and they would love this life too. This image warmed me so that no Montana wind could chill me. And then my cowboy, in his wise and simple way, confirmed my thoughts, “She loves her baby. She’s gonna be a good mama.”