Stories from the Stringam Family Ranches of Southern Alberta

From the 50s and 60s to today . . .



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Daughter of Ishmael by Diane Stringam Tolley

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by Diane Stringam Tolley

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Friday, May 22, 2015

Shirttail

Ready to ride
I had been Dad's herdsman for two months. I knew everything about cattle. Their needs. Their peculiarities. Not.
But I loved the job.
Every morning, I would drag out whatever goofball horse I was currently riding, tack up, and be off to check the herd.
This is a bit more complex than the statement suggests.
Yes, I would ride around the field. (I'd like to point out here that the aforementioned 'field' was roughly the size of a small town.) And yes, riding around it was pure joy to anyone as horse-crazy as I. But I also had to be on the look-out for any cows getting ready to calve.
Having trouble calving.
Already calved.
And anything else remotely resembling cows, calves and all their antecedent and potentially fatal problems.
Thus, the most important of my duties was watching alertly for signs of a cow having trouble.
This wasn't always easy to spot. For one thing, a cow preparing to give birth will hide herself so completely that she cannot be found.
Even with GPS.
Cows are funny that way.
Any other bodily function, they are happy to share with anyone and everyone. If they can do it, you are welcome to watch.
But when they are in labor (yes, they do experience labor) they head for nearest secret spot. Very, very secret. So secret that . . . well, let me put it this way: Jimmy Hoffa was probably hidden by a calving cow.
I must confess, I missed some of them in my travels.
Most of them were fine and I would ride out the next day and spot yet another little red and white baby 'hidden' in the tall grass.
Some weren't, and those either required immediate help.
Or burial.
Ranching can be a brutal business.
On this particular bright and sunny spring day, I had just started my sweep. I was feeling particularly cheerful because the days were getting noticeably warmer and most of the snow was gone.
I directed my horse along the north side of the pasture, heading east. There were less trees there and movement was easy. Then I swung back, just inside the tree line.
There! A suspicious patch of red! I slid off my horse and investigated. Sure enough, a cow. An almost completely exhausted cow.
I circled her quietly, trying to see the business end of things.
Yes, definitely calving. As I watched, she strained.
But something was wrong. She had obviously been at this a while, but was making no visible progress.
I finally got a clear view of her back end. I could see a pink calf's nose.
And one little white hoof.
I must point out here that a calf normally presents with a little pink nose and two little white hooves. It's two front feet and head enter the world together, followed immediately by the rest of the body, a stubby white-tipped tail and two little rear hooves.
The appearance of one hoof means that the little guy is trying to come through with one foot and leg tucked behind him, forcing the shoulder to bulge.
Making him entirely the wrong shape to come via the normal entrance.
There are only two solutions: Push the calf back inside and quickly, very quickly, get your hand around that recalcitrant hoof and pull it forward.
Or find a vet for an immediate caesarian.
My dad was a vet and could easily have performed the needed surgery. But there was over a mile between him and my patient.
I considered my options for a very brief time, then decided on option two.
I jumped on my horse and proceeded to herd my uncomfortable mother-to-be towards the ranch buildings.
We made it halfway across the field.
She wasn't making any detours and the straightest route to the gate was over the last remaining snow bank. She tried to push through. She didn't get very far.
She sank into the drift with a groan and . . . stayed there.
I immediately slid off my horse again and approached.
By this point, the poor thing was oblivious to my presence. I had a very short time to do something and very few tools at my disposal to do it with.
I looked down at my shirt, a long-sleeved, button-up variety. It would have to do.
Placing a gentle hand on that little nose, I shoved the calf back inside it's mother.
Then I slid my hand in beside it and felt for that wayward hoof.
There it was! I cupped it in my hand and pulled it forward.
It slid easily.
I released my hold on the wet nose and it slid towards light and life once more. But this time, it was accompanied by two hooves.
I stripped off my shirt, tied the sleeves around each of those little feet and, bracing a boot against the mamma's backside, heaved.
The little, shivering, wet calf slid out.
Into my lap.
Ewww.
But any disgust or outright repugnance was immediately dispelled when the little guy (yes, it was a boy) shook his head and I heard those wet ears slap weakly against his head.
He was alive!
Belying the manner in which she had entered the snow bank, the mother immediately struggled to her feet and turned around to see her new baby.
Ignoring me completely, she started licking him.
He bleated softly and she 'mmmmm-ed' at him.
I was no longer needed. I took myself off for home.
And a bath.

There is a codicil.
My father raised only purebred Polled Hereford cattle. And each animal was required to have its own registration papers. I can still picture him seated at his desk, trying to come up with imaginative names that not only identified the animal, but also connected it in some way to its parents and to the Stringam Ranch.
The last part was easy. All names began with SSS.
The naming of my little calf posed no additional difficulty, either.
Daddy named him SSS Shirttail.
No explanations needed.

20 comments:

  1. What a perfect name. And although I cringed at the picture in my head of that calf landing on you, I was rooting for him all through this story.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Little helpless guy. The heart was beating pretty hard through the whole escapade.

      Delete
  2. Holy Cow!!! (pun intended!) You did all this by yourself?? I'm an throughly impressed! Great story!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thank you Marcia. I'd like to say it was all in a day's works, but . . . I guess it was all in a day's work! :)

      Delete
  3. I'm impressed, too ... but by now I'm not surprised :)

    Isn't it amazing how nature works, how mamas usually know just what to do with their babies once they're out?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. It was always my favourite part. The work was done and the mothering could start.

      Delete
  4. And why did you not become a vet Diane? I'm sure this made your dad very proud - and confident in his "herdsman"!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. It's funny, Susan, but all I ever wanted to be was a vet. I was told by a well-meaning but insensitive (and rather stupid) teacher that I had no aptitude (or smarts) to become a vet and I believed him! I kick myself now, but then, I simply believed what I was told.

      Delete
  5. You were so brave to do that; I can't even imagine being able to accomplish that one. I truly loved this story and it was such a happy ending.
    Hugs!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thank you so much, LeAnn! You know ranching. This was one of the good endings! :)

      Delete
  6. You're a champion Diane, and I bet mumma cow was grateful for your help even if she couldn't say so.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I do hope so. She was sure enthusiastic about the results!

      Delete
  7. Oh, I remember calving season only too well! I have one really funny story I'll share with you. We, my husband and I, had been feeding out hay and checking cows and calves. One mother was just starting to birth her baby and thinking my four-year-old daughter would find it interesting, we waited quietly. When it was all over, I asked the little girl what she thought. She turned to me, her eyes like saucers, and in a voice filled with wonder said, "I never knew calves came in plastic bags!"

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Bwahahaha! Saving that to share with my Dad! Thanks, Robyn!

      Delete
  8. Wow Diane - just when I thought you couldn't get any more awesome.... What a great story, and what an amazing person you are. Few would be brave enough to take control of this situation. Well done - and thank you for sharing :)!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Okay, blushing now. Isn't it amazing what you look back on in life and realize, 'Hey! That was kind of neat!'

      Delete
  9. You are an amazing woman Diane! I don't think there is anything that you are not capable of doing and to think I was just out riding my bike at that age! I was such a slacker!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. But think of all those brothers you handled with ease, Rena. Now I don't know if I could have done that . . .

      Delete
  10. This was an awesome remembrance! Gave me goosebumps!
    Love,
    Chris

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. One of my experiences when I didn't hurt my big sister! Those are rare . . .

      Delete

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