By Kim Carr:
During the winter, I feed a little less than 1/2 scoop of grain per head to my cows so that they will all come up at one time. I can do a head count and check to make sure everyone is doing fine. I knew when San Antonio Rose didn’t come up for breakfast something was up. I put my bucket down and headed out into the field. Now, Rose is none too friendly, and why she couldn’t give birth near the gate, I don’t know. Times like this I regret that I don’t have a good cow dog to protect me and a gator to go fetch babies on, but I don’t and that’s been how it is for thirty-one years. So, I swing a wet baby over my shoulder and try to survive not being gored to death by an anxious, protective mom.
Moments like this I wish I had some magical shield around me or a lightsaber I could use to keep mom from using her horns to push me side to side trying to get me to let her baby go. I dig down deep and carry on. At least this baby wasn’t struggling to break free; I only had mom and the weight of the baby to contend with as I made my hike to the house. Getting myself, the baby, and mom through the gate with the use of one hand as the other keeps the baby balanced on my shoulder proves I can multitask and remain calm in stressful situations. I did end up getting a horn to the cheek, but it was accidental—I zigged when I should have zagged. It would be great if I had a nice barn and an empty stall just waiting for situations like this, but I don’t. I ushered momma cow into my mom’s yard, where I could keep her contained and convert the Hotel (chicken house) into a nursery. I set the baby down and caught my breath as Rose started cleaning up chicken feed and the baby started to nurse. That was a great sign and made me happy.
For the next forty-five minutes or so I prepped the hotel for Rose and baby. First thing I grabbed were rubber buckets so that I could get Rose something to drink. She had stopped at the water tank on our way out of the field, but I was afraid that if I stopped and set the baby down, I might not be able to get it back over my shoulders as I was wearing out. One bucket was full of mud-dabber nests. I took the cleanest and wiped it out so that I could fill it with fresh water. I carried it over to Rose, and she drank it down while the baby continued to nurse. I’d take care of the other water bucket later. In moments like this, I also ponder who builds a house and installs the water faucets a foot off the ground? Whoever thought that was a proper height should spend a Missouri winter on their knees fetching water for my livestock. What looks good on paper is not practical in real life.
Next, I went to grab an extension cord so that I could run a heat lamp to the hotel. I keep my extension cords in my van for my art shows. The doors were frozen shut, and I couldn’t get in. The back door was too close to the mower for me to open them. I got in the van to pull it forward so that I could access the double back doors . . . but the van wouldn’t start—deal with that tomorrow. Anyhow, I had to climb on the mower so that I could shoulder butt the back door and wiggle through the doors to get my cords. Once I had them, I found out they can freeze—or at least get very stiff—in cold weather. It was a challenge getting them straightened out, but I was finally able to run them from house to hotel.
I plugged in my heat lamp, but nothing. I double checked my cords, put in a new bulb . . . still nothing. Since the hotel is a chicken house and not normally a nursery, I was down on my hands and knees crawling back and forth to access the heat lamp and try to get some warmth going. By now she had laid down out on the snow, so I put the heat lamp job aside and headed to get hay. I was lucky to have a big bale left over from last year just on the other side of the fence. I had kept it covered all year, and it was in great shape, but my tarp was frozen. My big bricks that I use to hold the tarp in place we’re frozen to the ground and I couldn’t budge them. Off to find a shovel to use as a crowbar so I can get to my hay.
I pitched a big pile of hay over the fence once I freed the pitchfork, whose tongs were frozen into the ground. Everything about winter is harder, but that is life on the farm—you get use to it. I made a nice bed of hay in the hotel and grabbed up the baby so that I could set her inside on the nice bed I made for her away from the wind. By now my mom had made her way outside to see the new baby; I snapped a pic before I put the baby in the hotel. Then I spent the next half hour or so hunting down things I needed to convert the hotel into a nursery.
My mom warmed some towels in the dryer and searched the house for another heat lamp, because it didn’t work even after switching out the bulb. I got the baby situated inside and wrapped her in warm towels. I borrowed my mom’s alarm clock so that I could test electrical outlets. We ended up running the cords from my house to the hotel. After digging around, I found another heat lamp buried in the shed. I finally got some heat going and situated everything so that cords wouldn’t be in the way of all the animals. With baby napping under the heat lamp, I pitched another big pile of hay for Rose. I put half the pile in the hotel for her and left the other half just outside the hotel door so that she could happily eat and be near her baby. Next, I borrowed my mom’s scrub brush for the dog bowls and went about scrubbing a mud dabber nest out of the other water bucket. Scrubbing water buckets when it’s 12 degrees . . . well you do your best not to splash. Now I had one bucket for Rose and one to haul water to her in.
While in the hotel on the ground trying to get my heat lamp positioned right, I could feel I was in a wet spot, but there’s not much I could do about it. Apparently, Rose had decided to go to the bathroom inside the hotel instead of out. This is the second time in one week that I’ve had to wash my chore clothes. Just part of farm life. If I ever stayed clean, I would worry I wasn’t doing a proper job.
Next, I cleaned out the wet bedding and put in fresh, re-tarped my hay, covered my pitchfork to keep it out of the weather, and put everything back where it belonged. This year I am making a designated “Winter Items” tub (thought I had done this last year but apparently, not so much). Most everything was together, but there's room for improvement. I left the door on the hotel open wide enough for Rose to come and go as she liked. I was hopeful the baby would stay in the hotel under the heat lamp till it got warmed up. The baby seemed pretty content, as did Rose. She raised Bluebell in the yard and hotel last year, so she settled down quickly once she realized her baby was safe. Rose wandered the yard most of the day, enjoying the tall dried grass along the fence line and using the crabapple tree as a scratching post. I guess if someone ever asked why I don’t weed the grass along the fence, instead of saying, “Because I’m lazy,” I can just tell them I leave it as an additional food supply for my livestock during winter months. Seems reasonable, doesn’t it?
I was delighted to find Rose in the hotel with the baby when I went out to shut up the chicken houses. The baby was comfy, Rose was relaxed, and all the chickens—and Ranger the duck—had found places to roost and sleep for the night despite their new roommates who had taken up a considerable amount of space. Bet the chickens were enjoying the added warmth too. I felt much better knowing the new baby was out of the wind and had a warm place to sleep. I’m proud of Rose, she’s a good mom, and she didn’t run me down when she could have. Always grateful for times like that.
Not your typical Valentine’s Day date, but I have a happy, healthy baby and a happy, healthy mom who is content and doing her job; so it’s about as good as things can get here on the farm. Plus, at dinner my mom made brownies for Valentine’s Day, so I’m pretty content too despite both of us not sitting down for breakfast until after noon. At least I got brownies for dessert and a new baby calf to brighten the day . . . and a pretty good mom myself. She’s kind of like Rose, but without the horns (thorns, Hahahahaa). No worries, I’m not going to quit my day job to become a comedian.
Update: The new baby has been named Alamo Annie and is doing great!
Kim Carr is a photographer and mid-Missouri hobby farmer who has combined her love for the country life with that of natural-light photography. Her work reflects my commitment to sustainable agriculture and the humane treatment of all animals. To learn more about Kim, read her interview with Elizabeth Gracen here.
To purchase Kim's photography, visit her website