Sunday I looked over at Captain America and asked him, "What do you think that other couples do on their weekends?" We had spent all day Saturday working on the IL house, and were at the Missouri ranch to check the chickens and cows when we found Ellie May ready to calve. He shrugged and went back to Googling "how long should a cow be in labor," as I turned back to begin hour three of staring at Ellie May's vulva, wondering if we needed to call a vet, pull the calf, make her a cup of tea, drive her down a bumpy road, or just leave her the hell alone.
I also started wondering if adoption was not perhaps the way to go. Nothing like watching something in labor for several hours to make me want to never have kids. Ouch. Some pain transcends verbal communication. I feel for you, honey.
Long story short, we had to pull the calf. It was a new experience for me, though similar enough to pulling foals (thanks mom!) that we were able to get the job done. The heifer was stillborn - and had probably died a few days before labor started. No wonder Ellie had been in stage two labor for at least five hours. The baby's movement helps to stimulate contractions.
That brings us to three dead calves and fourteen live ones for the year so far, not good odds, but it happens I guess. Let's be honest, nothing but zero losses would be considered good odds.
But that is another thing that helping mom out with foaling a bunch of thoroughbreds has taught me. Sometimes you just have bad runs. It just happens. It is tragic, and horrible; but it is life. We went five years without losing a single mare or foal despite correcting what feels like 100 dystocias; and then in one year we had a foal puncture through the birth canal (thus losing both the mare and baby), one foal break a leg (and have to be put down), one foal whose dystocia couldn't be corrected, and two stillborns. And again, not bad odds when you consider that we were foaling out between fifty and seventy mares a year. But dear God it sucked.
So, while Captain America wasn't due yet, the fact that we hadn't lost a calf or had any problems calving at home for at least ten years makes it seem a little better.
I just wish that that mattered. That I could look at it all as a numbers game. Unfortunately, I can't. I cried for Ellie. I bawled for the heifer that lost one of her first babies last week. She had twins and one of them didn't make it. My heart broke for the momma whose baby was just a little too big, and took a little too long to get out because she calved in between my moving hay at seven pm and my going out to check them at ten the next day.
When those gals look at me like they want me to fix their baby something breaks inside, because I can't. As much as I want to, I can't fix dead.
Heck, I can't even fix the fences half the time. At least not well enough to keep my dang kamikaze calves in. I swear, it is like they don't feel pain. Brats.
So why do it? Why spend all the time and money to curse and cry and have to change plans and break dates and show up at the local farm store wanting to buy field fence only to have the sales guy get snotty when you (a girl) want to buy and install it to keep your a$$hat kamikaze calves from breaking through the vinyl board fencing that the horses live in AGAIN?
Because I can't look at it like a numbers game. I can't look at them and see dollar figures and widgets to be sold.
I look at them and I love them (yes even when they are being a$$hats...). And I personally feel like I owe them that much. I don't have a problem with grocery store carnivores, vegetarians, or vegans. However, when I look at that burger on my plate? I see a cow, and I feel better knowing that that cow was happy. That it had a good life. And that it was loved. If I am going to eat it, I feel that it deserves at least that much consideration. In my mind a little appreciation and respect go a long way.
I read in an animal communication book once that the communicator asked a meat rabbit how it felt about being destined to be dinner. I am paraphrasing the bunnies answer: "I am happy here, with my friends. There is plenty of room and sunshine. We all get eaten. It is our life before then that matters." Word, my fluffy friend. We all get eaten. It IS what happens before we die that matters, after that what do we care who eats us? Does it really matter if it is an earthworm and bacteria, a coyote, or something else?
Seriously, who knew that bunnies were the enlightened leaders of the animal kingdom?
I can't love every cow. I can't save every calf, but at least I can look at them with respect, and I can make sure that the cows whose lives I touch are as happy as I can make them. If I don't raise them, then someone else will; and I don't and won't know that they will get the respect they deserve.
Plus, I think the desire to kill teenagers is universal. I would be lying if I didn't admit that that helps. I may or may not have spent four hours last week chasing a heifer who broke out of the fence around screaming something about being an "apex predator" and that "I would eat her raw, if she didn't get her butt back in the fence"...
I think we bonded. She's going to be a wonderful mother one day. Ah, the circle of life. *Cue the Lion King music*
Here's hoping that the odds get better ya'll.