Mother Nature has really hit the Ozarks with blasts of winter weather recently, plunging temperatures and wind chills well below freezing. When we finally hit the 20s after what seemed to be an eternity of negative readings on the thermometer, it was as if everyone and everything got a little relief.
I think most farmers and ranchers dread the winter months, especially those that are calving, kidding, lambing and farrowing. Several years ago, in weather pretty similar to what we just experienced, my dad called and told me my bother was bringing me more straw and to get my “NICU” ready to roll because he was bringing me a calf. I had a couple of my wild, non-people liking Barbados ewes due to lamb at anytime as well, so I figured it was going to be a long, long night.
I got the calf area ready, then ran up to check the ewes as my brother got there with more straw. When we got to the shed, there was a Barbados ewe with a new set of twins. Knowing there was no way I was going to get her into any kind of barn, other than the open-ended shed she was in, I grabbed the lambs and handed them to my brother. David, not being much of a sheep person, just looked at me and asked, “What do you want me to do with these things?”
“Put them in your coat,” I replied as I broke the bales of straw open and began trying to offer some warmth to the new momma and babies.
As I was finishing up, I glanced up to see David looking down at the lambs as one of them nibbled on his nose. It was one of those “awe moments.” David wasn’t so impressed, but I thought it was one of the sweetest things I’d ever seen in my life.
After letting a nervous momma get back to her babies, Dad showed up with the calf.
She was a tiny little thing, laying in the floorboard of his pickup. Luckily, Dad had pretty much gotten her dried off and warmed up. We got some colostrum down her, and I covered her up with mounds of straw and an old blanket. All I could do at that point is hope for the best.
I checked on my babies throughout the night; the lambs were doing great with their attentive momma, but my orphaned calf was my main worry. As the evening went on, I got her a little more to drink and she seemed to be doing OK. The next morning I went out to check everything, bracing for the fact that I might have lost a calf and a couple of lambs overnight. My worry soon turned into joy when I saw lambs bouncing around and a hungry calf. Later on that day, the sun shined brightly and it was almost as if it were a new beginning to what had been a seemingly endless winter.
I suspect many of you can recall similar situations. It’s tough to lose one to Mother Nature, or because a momma can’t or won’t do her job, and most producers will do what they can to give each calf, lamb, kid, piglet, foal or whatever newborn a chance to survive. It’s kind of what we do because we care.
Animal rights groups like to say farmers are cruel. I would have liked to have seen one of those folks tell that to my rather burley brother that night in subzero temperatures with a pair of newborn lambs in his coat, or to my father when he picked a newborn calf up from the frozen ground. They’re pretty good at spreading falsehoods in the Internet, but I don’t suspect we will find any activists out in a snowy field on a bitter January night; they aren’t that tough.