One of the main priorities, well actually the main priority, of any farm family is to take care of what makes the crop, and for livestock farmers, that is the animals. As we wrap up this spring, I’m reminded this is not always an easy job, and sometimes farming just isn’t pretty. Seldom do things go as planned, but at the end of the day, our faith, family, and farm gets us through.
With spring, comes calving season and its own set of challenges. Newborn calves are notorious for getting themselves lost. I can’t tell you the number of hours I have spent hunting for calves only to find them stuck in ditches, under fallen logs, or my personal favorite, buried in a big bale of hay. Then you have those like my newest buddy, Wanderer, who get lost in an adjacent field and cannot find his mama. Sometimes you have those first-calf heifers that act like teenagers; they don’t want their calves and most definitely do not want to cooperate when you try to help them. Those are the days when you walk into work late with mud all over you because you’ve been wrestling with a calf to give it a bottle so it will not dehydrate or chasing a heifer to help her deliver her first calf.
Along with spring comes spring weather, and we realize the full force of Mother Nature. Thunderstorms, tornados, floods, and everything in between can come up. The first thing livestock farmers do is run out to make sure their cattle are safe when these weather conditions arise. Sometimes we have to move cattle to higher ground, or move trees to get hay and to feed them. Occasionally, we have to move the cattle because of damage to a field makes it unsafe for them stay there, or in some cases, they have to stay where they are because there’s nowhere else to go. Either way, you can bet that these animals’ caretakers will do everything in their power to ensure the animals’ safety.
In early March, wildfires broke out in the Texas Panhandle and parts of Kansas. Because of the high winds and dry conditions, these fires spread to parts of Oklahoma and Colorado within a few hours. Farmers and ranch hands rushed to save their herds.
Reports began flooding social media about ranches losing 80-90 percent of their herds. Some ranchers were forced to make the agonizing decision to put down their animals to end their suffering. To make matters worse, we learned that four young ranch hands lost their lives saving their animals. The ag community was brought to its knees.
In the aftermath of the fires, we saw devastating images of farms burned completely to the ground and heartbreaking losses that follow. The ag community and those watching were overjoyed to see baby calves born to cows that survived the fire. We saw farmers and ranchers from across the country come together to bring much needed feed, hay, and other resources to those who have been affected.
You see, when your livelihood depends on dirt and weather, it takes a tremendous amount of resilience and determination to put all you have into something that cannot improve no matter how hard you work. We know the risk, understand the cost, and choose to press on. We comprehend this on the forefront, and we do it anyway. It is not our job; it is our way of life. There are hard days. But, it’s the simple things, the values that we hold dear, the families we sweat for, that get us through the days that we cannot make better. And for that, we are grateful.
Photography from wildfires are by Michael Pearce, The Wichita Eagle