Marie’s First Calf
Marie’s First Calf
Reading the story of when Tana saved the day, where we visited about Blanch and her bull calf, Marie reminded me of when that calf was born.
That was so long ago that I had almost forgotten about it. But for the unknowing about us, a little background is in order before recounting the story.
While she is half Cherokee Indian, Marie was raised as a city girl. She had never seen a horse or cow in person and up close until she had the misfortune of making the acquaintance of Baby Jim. We must give her credit that she adapted and embraced the life pretty quickly but the learning curve was pretty steep at first. Over the years She has become quite attached to the relative peace and quiet of country living and has learned how to deal with the different lifestyle of living with someone immersed in animal culture. Icky hands, muddy boots and hay chaff have become part of her daily challenges, which are now handled in stride.
The three heifers, which were the foundation of our herd so many years ago, actually took up residence here before we did. We had cleared enough of the jungle that was this place when we bought it, to put up some electric fence and we got the heifers here before the house was fit for human habitation. Our house is an old house and it was in a state of disrepair when we bought the place. Lamentably it is not a great deal improved now but we have managed, so far, to keep most of the weather and varmits on the outside and us and the dogs on the inside.
The three heifers were all Registered Angus and came from the Lynn Brae herd in Troutville Va. They had fancy registered names but we called them Mildred, Blanch and Black Betty. Black Betty was the one who paid the bills because she never had anything but bull calves. She had nice bull calves and we sold almost all of them as bulls, but we never got a daughter from Betty to replace her in the herd. We did use some of her sons as cleanup bulls behind AI over the years so we do have a bit of her influence way back but we don’t have any direct daughter descendants. While we now only have a couple of cows just to keep us broke and off the street we do have direct female line descendants of both Mildred and Blanch.
Betty’s last calf was a heifer and we tried to keep her as a replacement to keep the line going but it just did not work out. Betty had her as an old cow and the heifer, which we named Hillary, because she was a real pain in the ass, just could not cut it in our herd. We actually kept her for a few years and gave her special treatment but she still could not produce with our other cows. We even got an AI daughter out of Hillary by the Riptide bull, who otherwise did well in our herd, but that calf who came to be named Hillary Junior was eventually sold as a commercial cow. Hillary and Hillary Junior both led lives of misadventure and required a lot of human intervention and so both became pets, who were constantly in the wrong place at the wrong time and always in the way. But unlike their namesake, these under achievers could not earn a place on the roster.
But to correct course from an old mans tangential walk down memory lane, lets get back to Maries First Calf. As a side note, our late partner, Jack, had a nice cow that he named Marie after my own spouse, and she was a very good cow until she succumbed to a sudden illness quite a few years ago. Jack had a penchant for naming animals after people he knew. All of his English setters were named after his grandchildren and friends. One bull was named after yours truly. There were reported references to similarity in density of skull and determination of attitude. Jim was a very nice bull.
Another course correction. So technically this was not Marie’s first calf ( the cow Marie) we are embarked on reporting on but rather Blanche’s calf which was the first calving experience for dear spouse, Marie. That is why we don’t name animals after living people. Gets too confusing to determine what or whom you are referring to.
Back in those days Our Hero’s employment kept him traveling a good bit. This involved frequent overnight travel away from home. As luck would have it Blanch delivered her precious baby during one of those forays. Baby Jim was at some multiday meeting in some locale hours away.
As was the norm he called home at about nine and got no answer. That worried him a bit but, he called a while later and a breathless Marie answered the phone. To say she was excited was an understatement.
Marie had come home in the late afternoon from her labors in town and she discovered that Blanch had found her baby that day. Mildred had previously delivered and Black Betty was not yet due. Marie had already learned to observe for signs that the baby had nursed and that the mother was duly attentive and had claimed the calf. Blanch was so attentive that Marie had some difficulty with the first task but then she later observed the calf nursing so she was relieved of that burden. All was well.
But just after the edge of darkness the weather turned against us, and a freezing rain began. This was the year before Baby Jim switched the herd to fall calving and eliminating weather related problems.
Now our hero had instructed his spouse not to go into the field with the new mothers. She viewed them all as pets and had no respect for the power or the maternal instinct that could kick in, even in the calmest cow. And Blanch was not our calmest cow. Since the Rockwell scale rating of our hero’s spouse’s cranium approached the rating of our hero, he had issued his caution in the strongest terms possible saying that she might be killed. Mildred had been a somewhat docile mother and so Marie had been skeptical. But when Blanch bellowed at her and pawed up a little earth while Marie tried to observe if the calf had nursed, Marie became more of a believer.
It is significant to point out here that while we had no facilities we had lots of woods and natural shelter and our hero had tried to instruct his wife that all would be well in terms of weather. And it would have been…………….
If the dadgum calf had stayed in the field with his mother.
Marie let the dogs out at about 8:30 in the evening to answer the call of nature and they began barking and chasing an interloper in the yard. Marie was horrified to see that it was the new calf. It took off down the driveway and away from mama with the dogs in pursuit. Freezing rain is still coming down and it is getting slick. Marie was actually pretty quickly successful in getting the dogs to abandon their pursuit and return to the house, but where was the calf. In emergency mode, she puts on the flip flop things she calls shoes and pulls a light coat over her bathrobe and no hat and goes out to find the calf and get it back with mama. Now the cows were contained by electric fence, and calves, especially new ones, are famous for walking thru them. But the cows honored them pretty well. Blanch by now is pretty agitated but thank goodness she did not come thru the fence. I hate to think what all might have happened in that event.
Marie found the calf pretty easily but it was a good ways from mama. For those that don’t know, baby calves pretty much have two speeds in these type situations. They either run blindly as fast at they can and always in the opposite direction from the one needed, or………. they just stand. This one had already run away and when Marie found him he had gone into stand mode. So she began to push him back to mama. This is an arduous process as the calf balks with every step and 120 lb woman trying to push an 80 lb calf was not at an advantage, especially when the calf was balking in four wheel drive and she was pushing in two and slipping on frozen ground and ice with every other step. As she got the calf closer to the lot, Blanch espied her baby being attacked by yet another threat and she came roaring down the fence line making such a commotion that she terrified the calf and he bolted away again. This scenario repeated itself three or four times and each time the calf went further away and finally, exhausted, Marie realized that she was not going to get this calf back with mama by herself. She went to the house and called a dairy farmer neighbor who lived about a mile away.
That good neighbor came out in the miserable weather with his son to assist the damsel in distress. Both of these gentlemen are now deceased. By now the calf had gone into full flight mode so catching the calf became the difficult part. The son caught the calf and as he herded it into sight Blanch resumed her maternal aggression and came roaring up to the fence. Marie reported that she told the neighbor what Baby Jim had warned her, “To stay out of the field or the cow would kill you.”
The neighbor reached up and broke a limb out of a tree and flailed Blanch about the head while the son pushed the calf back thru the fence and mother and baby both took off into the woods and the black cattle disappeared into the darkness. The neighbor reassured Marie that if the calf had nursed they would be all right. Marie thanked him and they departed and it was as she was coming back in the door that the call from Baby Jim rang in.
She was somewhat agitated at the time and it took a while to get the whole story in logical order. But as she told the story and answered questions from the absent troublemaking spouse, she calmed down and aforementioned troublemaker assured her that all would be well. She won’t admit it but she probably went out there two or three more times to try to find the new pair but she did not go in the fence. She had taken a chill and when our hero returned home a few days later Marie had a terrible cold that lasted for weeks
In the intervening years we have probably had a thousand calves born around here and Marie barely notices when one hits the ground anymore. We have had numerous sets of twins. Marie has raised orphans on the bottle and one year she raised three. We have had cold calves that had to thaw out by the woodstove and weak calves that required special care and Marie has learned how to do it all. In recent years our hero has been gainfully employed at work that allows him to be closer to home so all the burden has not fallen to our spouse as it did so often in those early years.
But we all remember Marie’s first calf.