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Irons in the fire: Just pay attention

Paul Marchant for Progressive Forage Published on 30 April 2020
New calf

It was a beautiful spring Sunday morning. Due to an abundance of caution being practiced by pretty much every soul on the planet, church was canceled in deference to approved “social distancing” precautions.

I’ll be honest. I wasn’t too bent out of shape with the assurance I wouldn’t have to clean up in my best effort to make myself suitable for a public meeting – church or otherwise. I’d made a quick run to the heifer pasture and noticed one of the girls was getting ready to calve. Since it was a day of rest, if not public worship, I figured I’d just take it easy and sit in the pickup and wait for the birth of the new arrival. I had the good camera, and I was wanting some good calving pictures anyway.

After about 45 minutes, the deed was done and the new mother was up and cleaning her baby, even as she periodically nudged the newborn with her nose to encourage and instill some vigor into the struggling and awkward limbs of the healthy new addition. I’d managed to get what I figured were some pretty decent pictures and left the maternity ward and headed to the house for lunch and maybe half-an-hour of Sunday rest.

A few hours later, as I was feeding the heifers in that same field, I noticed another heifer had calved. I tagged the calf from the earlier photo shoot with its mother’s number, 814, but decided to wait until the next morning to tag the newer one. The following morning is when the fun started. The 814 heifer, with all the confusing incompetence I’ve come to expect from first-calf heifers, had decided the newer, untagged calf was hers and wanted nothing to do with her own calf. It was a pretty sweet deal for the second calf – two fully stocked milk bars, each complete with a doting and attentive mother – but not so much for 814’s rightful calf.

I scooped up the calf and took it up to a jug pen by the house. I then saddled a horse and rounded up the reluctant mother and commenced with a weeklong process of grafting the calf onto its own mother, for crying out loud. The new mother was less than cooperative, and I daily renamed her with a new not-for-Disney moniker until she finally seemed to relent and at least allowed her baby to suck without nailing the poor hungry little guy with a wicked and swift kick to the head. If she’d just paid attention in the first place, it would have spared all of us a fair amount of grief.

The silly, maternally challenged new mother reminded me of a guy I momentarily met just a week earlier. I was sitting in my dirty white pickup at a convenience store near downtown Salt Lake City, about 10 minutes from the airport. I was biding my time and saving on diesel and parking charges as I waited for my wife’s plane to arrive from Phoenix, where she’d spent a couple of weeks helping her mother care for her ailing dad, who was battling the effects of Father Time and a broken leg.

I was minding my own business as I chatted on my phone with a friend about the disastrous fat cattle market and disruptions in the supply chain. I watched a stern-looking, goateed little gnomelike feller stroll out of the store, intently studying the keys in his hand as he chewed on his newly purchased Jack Link’s jerky stick. He strolled around the front of my truck to the driver’s side door, still mesmerized by the key fob in his hand. He pressed the key fob a couple of times and, without looking up, nonchalantly opened my door.

He blubbered out a couple not-for-Disney oaths of his own as I greeted him with the most hillbilly-ish “howdy, friend” I could muster. He stuttered out a reckless and perfunctory apology as he backpedaled into the car parked next to me and scampered like a rock chuck fleeing a blue heeler to his white Suburban, two parking spaces away.

His retelling of the tale may differ a bit from my version, but I’ll bet he pays more attention the next time he refills his Slurpee cup.  end mark

PHOTO: If she’d just paid attention in the first place, it would have spared all of us a fair amount of grief. Photo by Paul Marchant.

Paul Marchant
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