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Irons in the fire: The scales of sleep and regret

Paul Marchant for Progressive Forage Published on 28 February 2022

I rolled over and opened one eye. According to the bright red digits on the old clock radio on the nightstand next to my bed, it was quarter to 4. Barely two hours had passed since the last time I’d looked at the same clock and collapsed on the bed.

I don’t know how it works, but this time of year there seems to be some hot shot contraption in my internal clock that shocks me into a state of “barely awakeness” every couple of hours. It’s never a pleasant minute or two, but I’m glad it works.

It took all the willpower I could muster to kick one leg off the bed so I’d either have to stand up or just simply roll off the bed. From my past experience of performing this same ritual a thousand times, I knew it was better to get both feet on the floor. I’d either regret the consequences of going back to sleep or crack my noggin on the way down to the floor.

I’ve been seduced by the lure of the sultry mistress of slumber, whose promise of ten more minutes of sleep can easily convince a tired mind and body to succumb to her wiles. But over the years, I’ve learned to spurn her advances in favor of the contentment that comes with knowing I at least tried to do the best I could.

If ever something could teach a person the lessons of choice and consequences, calving heifers would have to be close to the top of the list. I was four or five days into calving season, and the heifers were just starting to calve at a pretty steady clip. Now was not the time for weakness. I’ve been punched in the gut and kicked in the teeth by my own negligence and slothfulness just enough to know that the few seconds of torment I have to endure before my brain snaps into gear enough to get me out of bed and through the door is not a bad price to pay for some peace of mind.

No matter what precautions I might take to try to ensure all will be well in my bovine maternity pasture, as sure as the pale light that glows from the three-quarter moon hanging in the cold, early spring sky, if I take a shift off, there will be something I’ll regret.

On this particular night, I experienced no serious catastrophes, but I did come across a cold little bull calf whose newly minted mother wasn’t exactly eager to clean him off and get him to nursing. I whipped him up a quick batch of hot colostrum supplement to warm his belly and bolster my doubts about his mother, then I slipped back to the house for a quick visit with the sandman before the next round. Several hours later, I was happy to see that mother and baby had both come to terms with their new reality, and both seemed to be satisfied with the arrangement.

Now, it’s entirely possible this particular heifer would have figured out her matronly responsibilities well enough and soon enough that her newborn calf would have been just fine without my intervention. The night wasn’t bitterly frigid, and the calf seemed to have enough “want to” to survive in spite of his mother’s early lack of interest. But maybe not. That’s why I’m willing to pay my insurance with a little sleep deprivation.

If you’ve read this far, I’m sure you’re bracing yourself for a tidy little parallel to life. Maybe I just have to retell stories like this just to keep me motivated as I slog my way through another eternally long 50 days of calving heifers. You know, so I can remember to enjoy the journey. But every night, as I argue with the temptation another hour of sleep so tantalizingly offers, I remind myself that the temporary paradise would give me no comfort when I had to deal with the headache and heartache of a dead calf or a prolapsed heifer.

In an age where we so often expect instant Google-like answers to every question or conundrum, it’s well to realize the value in the long game. Though our own human nature would sometimes have us believe the easy way is the best way, that’s usually not the truth. Eventually, the interest and the piper must be paid.

Like the false promise of temporary comfort that another hour of sleep in the middle of a brutal calving season offers, the easy way out is often a deceitful mistress. Most of the genuinely good things in life are realized only after the struggle. But once the struggle is subdued, regret disappears with it. And in the end, that’s a reward well worth the price.  end mark

Paul Marchant is a cowboy and part-time freelance writer based in southern Idaho. Follow him on Twitter, or email Paul Marchant.

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