Calving in cold weather can be perilous. We don’t get much cold weather here in central Texas, so we are not always prepared for all that entails. We don’t have tire chains or snow tires to help facilitate travel. At least most ranchers have trucks equipped with four-wheel drive, so they can get out to their pastures to check their livestock, no matter how much snow and ice are on the ground. Even so, it is sometimes difficult to cover sprawling ranches and find those newborns hidden in the remote rocky parts. In an effort to save them from potential predators, mamas look for the thickest clump of trees, the farthest meadow or the deepest ravine in which to deliver their babies.
My buddy Scott had the misfortune of finding one of those newborn calves early on a frosty morn, but it was too late. The little fellow had gotten chilled after his mom had delivered him on the north side of the cedar brake and was unable to warm it up fast enough. Thankfully, it was the only casualty Scott’s had, so far, although one other one nearly died during a recent ice storm. (It is freaky weather indeed when we have three major winter storms before Christmas. Must be that "global warming" I keep hearing about ….)
The other day Scott and his brother Chris were making the rounds on one of their ranches, putting out feed and hay, and breaking the ice on water troughs. They had split up to make the work go a little faster. When they met back up in an hour, Chris casually commented that he’d seen a cow down in a creek bottom. There was blood and afterbirth all over the ground and she was beginning to clean it up. He remarked that he hadn’t seen a calf anywhere.
Realizing the mercury wasn’t going to rise above the freezing mark for the next few days, Scott said, "Well, we can’t just leave it. We gotta go find it, then."
They eased the truck down the embankment and got out and started to look. In a few moments, Scott found the little calf. It was lying down on the ice in the middle of the frozen creek. Apparently, it had given up on trying to get up. There were scratches in the ice it had made with its hoofs when it had repeatedly tried to scramble to its feet. Scott eased out onto the ice to rescue the exhausted animal. He’s a big burly guy – probably not the most graceful, especially on such a slippery surface. He slipped and fell more than once, landing hard on his ample backside. Luckily, the ice was thick enough not to break on impact. Finally, he reached the shivering calf. It was so worn out that it didn’t move or try to get up when he approached.
"He’d just plum give up on trying to get up, I guess," Scott told me later.
He leaned down and carefully wrapped a big calloused hand around one of the calf’s back legs. The anxious mother was on the other side of the creek, watching the whole episode unfold, pacing up and down and bawling pitifully the whole time. Scott was glad she was wary of crossing the icy creek. Otherwise, she might have charged him and tried to kill him for messing with her baby.
Struggling to get some traction in his work boots, he slowly began to drag it across the surface to the opposite bank. He stepped out onto the land, relieved to be on solid ground again, albeit covered with a thick layer of slick ice. In a moment, the little calf gathered its spindly legs underneath its body and stood up. By that time, its mother had trotted over to where they were, and mama and baby had a happy reunion. Before she could start cleaning her calf off and nudging him toward her full udder, Scott had gingerly walked back across the frozen creek, relieved to have that job done and be back to the welcoming warmth of his truck.