“Spring has sprung, the grass has grung.” I know that doesn’t make any sense, but I had to make it rhyme.
This is a special time of the year. And you can’t always tell spring is here by the weather. Snowstorms on the plains of the Dakotas can last until spring is over. And then start again right after our two days of summer. I guess it’s probably snowed every month around here.
But I always figured they called it spring cause the cows are springing up and getting ready to calf. Now, if you don’t know what “springing up” is, I guess I won’t explain, but look under their tail.
We’ve always calved a lot of heifers. Now heifers take special care. Extra feed. More shelter. And a watchful eye when they start calving. All things that Shirley and Will are pretty good at. I’m good at going to sale and buying the heifers for them to watch.
Most heifers are pretty good. They might need a little assistance in delivering the calf, but after that, they are alright. But occasionally, you run across one that hates her calf. I guess there are probably people like that too. And you have to kind of guide that dumb old heifer through the early stages of parenthood.
Now there are a couple of ways to do that. Sometimes whistling the dog over can make her a better mother. Sometimes putting her in the chute and helping the calf nurse will awaken her motherly instincts. Sometimes beating her up with an ash post will help, or at least make you feel better. Sometimes putting molasses on the calf and over her nose will help. Sometimes giving her a shot of “Ace” and hauling her to the cow sale with her calf will help. Maybe not help her, or the guy that buys her, but it will shorten up your chore time. And you’ve got all those other hungry mouths to tend to.
And then you have a heifer that loves her calf. And the one in the next pen. And the one that is born the next morning. She wants them all. I guess there are people like that too. This is a harder problem to solve. You hate to beat up a cow that likes calves. So just give her a little extra feed and in time she should figure it out. If her own calf doesn’t starve to death in the meantime.
Ranchers are a funny breed. They will sit up all night with a sick calf or a heifer having trouble. They will wreck a pickup worth thousands of dollars to fight through a storm to find a calf worth $80 or $100. They will take a $30,000-tractor burning dollar fuel eight miles to the river to pick up a calf that is starving. And while they are driving along, they will wonder how come they never make any money. Don’t tell em, cause I’d hate to see them change.
I remember the spring from hell. When we had three feet of wet snow towards the end of April. And no feed. Cows scattered all over the ranch and right in the thick of calving. Big calves. Real big calves. I swear some of those calves being born were last year’s. You could ride out at night with a flashlight and find a cow trying to calf, and the calf’s feet were as big as the cow’s. I hate that. But, boy, we had heavy calves that fall. Not as many. But heavy.
And with those wet springs comes the gumbo. Now, not gumbo like you eat if you live down south. And to me south is anything past Dickinson. This is gumbo that looks like concrete, grows as much grass as Astroturf, and sticks better than super glue when wet. It sticks to overshoes. It sticks to tires. It sticks to pickups and tractors and machinery and horse feet.
And we’ve been blessed with lots of it. We have gumbo flats. We have gumbo hills. We have gumbo in places where most people don’t have places. I’ve ridden in it. Driven in it. Rolled in it. Slipped in it. And I have no idea what it is good for. But, then I’m not done yet.
But you know what. When those cows are calving and that snow is starting to settle down a little, some night you’ll wake up. You’ll wake up and wonder what that noise is. And you’ll lie awake and then it will dawn on you. Water is dripping off the roof. And you’ll feel a little of the ache go out of your bones.
And the next morning, you’ll see some grass peeking out from under the snowy blanket up on the ridge. And a little black will start to peek through on the hay fields. And when you go to bed at night, you’ll hear water running down the creek, on its journey to the gulf. And you will realize that you have made another winter. Spring is here.
And in a couple of weeks, those calves you were struggling to keep alive will be bucking and playing and racing across the green pastures. And their mothers will be bellering and throwing a fit and trying to tell them to slow down.
Those saddle horses that wintered out west will start to fatten up and shed off, and you’ll have to figure out a way to get your wife or son to top them off so you can go riding.
One day, you’ll be poking along, looking for that black cow with a spot under her eye, and you’ll hear a strange noise. And as you look skyward, you’ll see the first geese cheering each other north. And you can sit down on a side hill and let your horse nibble that short little green grass and just lie back and feel the warmth of the sun’s rays as they warm you like a furnace never could.
And on the way home, you’ll ride across the same side hill you’ve ridden every day, and all at once it is covered with crocuses. And you’ve got to stop and pick a few for the wife and kids. And you hate to break them off. And you have to carry them in your hand cause your pocket would crush them. And you crawl on that good-looking colt and trot on towards home and you think to yourself. Life is good.
This spring, I think you’ll be big enough to go along.