Hard work. Big Rewards. Bigger blessings. Life on a South Dakota ranch.
While we have been busy shipping calves and pregnancy checking cows over the last couple of weeks, those affected by the Atlas Blizzard during the first week of October are still struggling to come to terms with their losses, and in many cases, still trying to assess their losses. It is difficult to sometimes get an exact count of losses as many animals drifted on to neighbor’s land, animals drowned, some animals drifted down rivers, and some carcasses just have not been found because of the wide expanse of land that has to be covered.
I want to tell you about Mabeline. Mabeline (Mabel to those close to her) was the miracle calf. Her mother was found down one early spring day while feeding. Our friends hauled feed and water to her for a couple of days, but she didn’t seem to be regaining her strength adequately so they loaded her up and hauled her in to the corral for some extra TLC. She stayed weak and unable to really get up and around so they continued to haul food and water directly to her so she wouldn’t have to get herself to the water tank or to the feeder. One evening they came to the corral to find that she had moved, and upon further observation saw that she had calved. However, there was no calf to be found anywhere. They were stumped.
The evening wore on and still no calf. During a night check of the heifers in the next corral, they spotted what they thought were some eyes through the wooden fence. They went to investigate and found the missing calf lying down behind some grain bins. “She was the cutest little thing with the longest eyelashes,” my friend told me. Hence the name Mabeline. They hauled Mabel to the house to get her warmed up, cleaned up, and try to get some food in her tummy. They were out of colostrum so they fed her some straight milk replacer until they could get some more colostrum the next day. So began the life of their little miracle, Mabel.
Mabel survived all the odds. Colostrum is essential for healthy calves. It is high in energy, protein, vitamins, and minerals. It also is very high in immunoglobulins which transfers immunity from the cow to the calf to help fight off infections. Optimally, the calf should get its first colostrum within 2-4 hour of birth, with a second feeding of colostrum within 12 hours. The chance of mortality increases as the length of time between birth and ingestion of colostrum grows. Mabel– well she definitely didn’t get any colostrum within 2-4 hours, and didn’t get any within 12 hours. She got milk, but didn’t actually receive colostrum until about 16 hours after birth. Hence her status as the miracle calf.
From then on, Mabel was pretty sure she was a dog. She slept with the dogs, ate with the dogs, even rode around in the back of the pickup.
Chris, my friend, told me that when they were haying Mabel would run out to the field, find the tractor she was in, and run up and bawl at the tractor for her to stop. Just like the dogs. She was part of the family. As summer wore on they wanted Mabel to start running with the cows. Mabel, however, thought she would rather be with them so she was splitting her time between being a calf and being a dog.
Chris was stoic while telling me of her family’s losses during the storm… talking about gathering, pairing, sorting, counting, and burying the dead. She was worried about her husband. She was even more worried about her brothers who ranch farther southeast from where she and her husband ranch. They had suffered even more devastating losses and she was going to try to leave the next morning to try to get to them and help them in any way that she could. She fought tears telling me of the losses she had witnessed. However, when she told me about Mabel she didn’t fight the tears any more. Mabel didn’t make it through the storm. She had lost her miracle and it broke her heart. She cried and I cried with her. As a ranch wife I know the time, heart, and soul she had invested in not only that calf, but in all the livestock on her ranch. I could feel her hurt, and I felt my heart breaking for her while we cried for Mabel, for their losses, and for the losses suffered by so many.
JARW friend Sharon shared some of her heartbreak, too. (Reposted with permission from Miss Sharon. So sorry for your losses.) “The other day when we preg tested cows, my 26 yr old son was watching them come up the chute, and one caught his attention and he goes ‘Mom this cow tried soo hard to save her calf during the storm. She was wrapped around him as tight as she could get with her head over him..She’s a good cow” Man talk about knock the wind out of me..I wished a lot of those negative people that bashed the ranchers and farmers during the storm could have been there to hear him and know how much he cares about his cows… “
The sheer magnitude of the losses is yet to be measured. However, the immensity of the goodness and kindness of others is being measured every day. Heifers for South Dakota has already made their first delivery to a young couple who lost over 50% of their cow herd. KBHB Radio shared the story. The Ranchers Relief Fund is sharing stories daily of the incredible generosity of individuals and companies. The Atlas Blizzard Relief Auction starts at noon on Saturday, November 10th. My heart smiles and my eyes leak every time I read another story sharing the newest news of the outpouring of love and support.
So to those suffering, I plead … stay strong my comrades. Things will be forever different , but you are a strong bunch. However, until you feel strong enough to stand on your own feet without wanting to crumple with the weight of your losses, please lean on the rest of us. We know that you would offer the same set of shoulders if the positions were reversed. Until then, our prayers will continue to be offered up in your behalf.