Our first beef calves of the season arrived a few days into February. Each day into calving season temperatures grew colder, and our lives transitioned from normal routines to the highly vigilant survival mode required to weather the arctic storm.
My quiet moments during this bitterly cold stretch have been filled with reflections on the farming and ranching lifestyle. Calving through a storm is hard work that takes a kind of deep, character-refining strength.
It takes strong logic to overcome a pull on your heartstrings that comes when you take a brand new calf away from a momma cow minutes after it is born. Farmers do this because they know that no matter how hard the cow tries to clean up her baby, she will never get it dry enough by herself in frigid temperatures. Spending a few hours under a heat lamp keeps the baby warm until she is dry enough to survive in the cold.
It takes strong purpose to put the needs of the herd before your own comfort. During the run-on days of the storm, farmers miss meals, delay bathroom breaks, ditch their gloves and lose the feeling their hands while milking a cow to teach a calf to nurse. They ruin clothing, end up with soiled vehicles, and may even sacrifice their bathtubs to the needs of the newborns.
It takes physical strength to chop through the layers of ice in water tanks or safely wrestle a 50-pound calf into the passenger seat of your pickup to move it to the warming shed. Farmers don’t give a second thought to the bruise forming on their leg from a baby calves’ flailing legs or the soreness in their muscles after long physical days because aches and pains seem like a small price to pay to protect the herd.
It takes mental strength to wake at all hours of the night after a scarce 30-minute nap and reach a state of alertness to identify signs of distress during a frequent pen checks. Farmers make constant rounds day and night in the cold because they know that a cow may have a quick or a difficult labor. Being vigilant helps farmers to provide needed assistance as quickly as possible.
It takes emotional strength not to feel weighed down with guilt when a calf is born in subzero temperatures and you just did not get there quick enough to save it. Farmers do not have the luxury of dwelling on what went wrong. They have to get back to helping their remaining animals and trying their best not to lose another one.
Calving through a storm is hard, but it is the kind of hard that’s worthwhile.
My most surprising reflection is that this storm has made me better. I feel a little bit like leaving the gym after a strength training session. My mind and body are exhausted, but I feel joy, peace and contentment. What looked so daunting at the beginning was overcome through perseverance and exercising logic, selflessness, compassion, wisdom and humility.
You may never have the chance to help a farm or ranch survive a calving season storm, but we all have storms in our lives. Opportunity to exercise our character by putting the needs of others before our own comfort; taking the uncomfortable steps to help others who cannot help themselves; and forgiving ourselves or letting go of things beyond our control. And we all have the strength to weather these storms.
”Insight” is a weekly column published by Kansas Farm Bureau, the state’s largest farm organization whose mission is to strengthen agriculture and the lives of Kansans through advocacy, education and service.