When you’re raising cattle, during calving season, you inevitably wind up with a momma cow who has a hard time feeding her calf, or a twin that gets abandoned, or a number of other reasons that might turn a rancher (or a rancher’s kid, or grandkid) into that calf’s momma.
Which means that the house sink and drying rack is now home to a couple giant bottles and the bag of milk replacer is in the garage. And, if you’re the rancher (or the rancher’s kid or grandkid), you’re mixing those bottles and heading down to the barn to be welcomed with bawls and head-butts and slobber a good three times a day for a few months or so, now with a responsibility that truly magnifies the devotion that ranchers have to their cattle throughout the year.
It’s a job that doesn’t have a start and end time. A job where you’re always on call, no matter the season, the weather or the vacation plans.
My little sister and I learned about this when we became old enough to perform the entire chore ourselves. We had a bottle calf named Pooper (original, I know) and each day we would head on down to the little barnyard with a big bottle and some pride that we were taking care of things around here on our own. When we had Pooper, I think I was about 1 and so my little sister, Alex, was 6 or so.
But the thing about small, adorable baby calves is that they very quickly become larger, more aggressive calves who start to chase you around the barnyard with those signature head-butts even after they’ve finished the bottle. Even after you escaped and started running down the road to the house, because big baby bottle calves can escape too. And. They. Will. Chase. You.
So what’s the lesson here? Well, when I was 11, it was to run faster than the little sister I brought with me, ignoring her screams at Pooper to leave her alone and to especially ignore the screams to me, her big sister who was supposed to protect her at all costs, to help save her life as the calf bellowed, trotted and bumped her little butt all the way home.
It’s a nightmare my sister relives every calving season and one I will never live down, no matter how many times I answer her SOS calls to save her from her latest cooking disasters.
Anyway, it’s calving season once again at the ranch and my little sister and I, nearly 30 years later, find we are mommas to a bottle calf again. Only this time we have four tiny little helpers. And this time the calf is named Kiki Ella and we get to manage arguments about who gets to fill the bottle, carry the bottle and hold the bottle for the calf first.
And when that’s sorted out, we watch them move on to the kisses, belly scratches and hugs portion of the chore, which inevitably leads to questions about where the calf’s belly button is, and if it’s a boy or a girl, and how do you know and can I see, questions.
Then, we move to the “putting your entire hand in her mouth for her to suck” bit of the morning, which lends itself to a little laughing and then some gagging and then a good wipe-it-off-on-her-pants segment before someone gets knocked over by head-butts and we move on to Tootsie, the tiny, unassuming, 80-year-old, partially blind mini horse.
Yeah, it’s calving season and we’re happy for the responsibility. Because slobber and all, life is good for the ranchers’ kids.
Now, quick, everyone go wash your cars so we can get some rain.
Jessie Veeder is a musician and writer living with her husband and daughters on a ranch near Watford City, N.D. She blogs at https://veederranch.com. Readers can reach her at email@example.com.