Calving Season

Jamie Lynne Burgess

Jamie Lynne Burgess

I wake with a fear-jolt, but of course it’s three minutes before the alarm. I told Ty I’d take the two o’clock check, and there he is beside me, sleeping hard. Truth is, I find myself waking up anyway when it’s his turn, so might as well let him sleep. Maybe none of the heifers are calving, and I can crawl right back into bed for a few more hours.

The dog follows me to the back door and puts her nose to the glass to be let out. “You wait,” I tell her, pulling on muck boots and Ty’s coat, a wool hat over bed-tangled hair. When I open the door, she trots ahead of me toward the shed in the dark.

It’s not too cold, and I say a little thank goodness for that. We worry most about a freeze at night, since a newborn calf can get a chill. As I cut across the property, I’m thinking about everything that needs doing as we come into springtime, the mud sucking at my boots in the field.

There’s something about the ranch at two o’clock in the morning. I wouldn’t say it’s my favorite time of day, but in the still and quiet, I start to remember why we do this in the first place. It’s a bright moon, and I can see the shapes of my hills where the light hits what’s left of the snow.

In the shed, I tug the pull-chain for the light. “Hi Mama,” I whisper to the heifer. She knows why I’m here, and she turns so I can see two hooves poking out under her tail. Returning to my warm bed becomes a fading dream.

“All right, Mama, I’m here,” I tell her, hoping for an easy birth. It flashes in my head: What if we need a neighbor or a vet? Can we call? We’re in the middle of a crisis, but try telling that to a cow.

When the calf drops on the hay, I feel the heart-swell of a new mama’s pride. She licks him and nudges him to stand. Life and death brush close here, and there’s no time to think except about the work ahead: feed and water, tag, sort the calves. They talk about quarantine like the cows will wait. I say, Quarantine? What quarantine? It’s calving season.

WINNER of Bud's 2020 Stories from Home contest during our pandemic pause.

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