My first black and white miracle

My heart beat wildly while I waited at the gate.

“Do not move, no matter what,” my father yelled from the pickup. “Don’t let ‘em get past you.”

I stood all alone on the west side of the pen, the wind blowing my pigtails in my face. I could see my brother, Terry, on the east side.

And in front of us, I could see my father in his blue pickup, driving heifers toward us.

Some of the big heifers were moving at a pretty good pace, but the majority just lumbered along because they were very pregnant. It was time for them to come home and give birth. It was time for another round of heifers to become cows.

They had spent the majority of their pregnancies at the “South Place,” a beautiful prairie grass-filled place complete with a windmill for water and a shelterbelt for shade.

As their unborn calves grew larger, they had to be rounded up, loaded in trailers and returned to the farm.

Whether they were pregnant or not, I was still scared of them. I was probably about eight and quite a bit smaller than them. With about 30 coming straight at us and my father’s expectations at a typical high, there was a lot of pressure on this second grader.

Terry didn’t seem to have a care in the world, although he was only in first grade. He had an innate ability to relate to cattle — still does.

As they approached, many sets of soft brown eyes stared into my blue, as we all debated who was about to win this war. My job was to direct them toward the open gate and hopefully no one would take off running.

I held my breath and my ground. “No way are you getting past me,” I whispered.

One, two, three, four . . . they started to move inside the designated area. More moved with ease while I could feel Dad watching us intently. He was on foot now, slowly moving behind the girls while softly coaching us along.

Finally the last one was inside and I ran to grab the gate. That’s when we realized the gate’s latch was broken.

“Well, there’s no choice,” Dad said. “Terry, you help me take this load and Melanie, you stay here and hold the gate shut while we’re gone.”

“You want me to stay out here and wait, by myself?” I asked, bewildered.

“You’ll be fine,” he said. “Just hold the gate shut and don’t let any of them out. We’ll be right back — especially because that girl looks like she’s about ready to go.”

He pointed to one of the heifers in the corner of the pen.

“She’ll probably be ready in the morning,” he predicted.

As they drove away, with a full load of black and white Holsteins, I propped my body up against the gate. It wasn’t necessarily heavy, but it took the majority of my weight to keep it from swinging open.

That’s when the heifer turned around and I nearly fell to the ground. My eyes opened wide as I saw something protruding from her body.

“What on earth is that?” I said to myself. “What is happening?”

The grass rustled in the silence. Then she let out a beller or two and I froze in disbelief. There was now more protruding from this poor animal and that’s when it dawned on me — she’s about to have a calf. And Dad wasn’t there to help.

With dairy cattle, it seemed rare that anyone would give birth to anything without my father being present. He was always checking on the mothers in the middle of the night, pulling a calf during lunch. So I naturally believed there was no way a baby calf could come into the world without his assistance.

“Oh, hurry up,” I whined out loud, although it was just her, me and a few of her sisters there to hear it. “Hold on, hold on,” I said to her as the protrusion became even more so.

Even more unbelievable was the fact I’d never actually seen a calf be born. In my short life, I’d been there numerous times shortly after the miracles had already happened, just in time to see the mothers clean them off and coax them to their feet. But to actually see the baby come out — well, this was my first time.

The heifer made a few sounds while I held onto that gate for dear life. I prayed that it didn’t hurt her, I prayed that Dad would hurry. I prayed that someone would return to the South Place to retrieve me. I also prayed to God that I wouldn’t have to see what I was pretty sure I was about to see.

Sure, I could have turned away, as she arched and strained. But this unbelievable instant was something I had to witness. I had to stick with it. I was all she had.

Then, she looked at me, right in the eyes. She seemed to ask me for help, but there was nothing I could do.

“You’re on your own until Dad gets here,” I told her and I started to cry a little. This was just too much to handle.

I kept looking east, down the dirt road, praying I’d see the dust fly any minute, meaning the pickup and trailer would be coming. But there was nothing.

The birds chirped, there was the gentle whirring of the windmill . . . and the bellering from the heifer with my soft crying.

It seemed as if we’d been left, stranded on a deserted island, for days.

“Hurry, hurry,” I whispered to my father, as if to somehow reach him with my psychic ability.

And then, it all happened. It wasn’t violent, it wasn’t awful. Sure, it was incredibly gross. But right then and there, I witnessed my first real miracle.

Through my wet lashes, I saw the small black and white spots emerge. Legs, some more body parts, even more body parts, and then with one fluid movement, an entire calf emerged. I couldn’t feel my heart beat, I was so incredibly stunned by what I was seeing. I couldn’t even begin to wrap my brain around it.

He hit the ground and she quickly went into mother mode. The two black and white animals knew exactly what to do, they knew each other intimately. They didn’t need my dad, or a veterinarian, or even me as the crying coach.

I was exhausted, probably more exhausted than the heifer. I leaned against the gate in utter relief. Then another wave of comfort came over me as I saw the dirt a’flyin’ down the road as Dad made his way to the South Place.

I waved my arms in the air as he entered the pasture. He stared at me through the windshield, wondering what on earth was wrong.

“She had a calf while you were gone!” I screamed, now laughing and talking so fast even I couldn’t understand what I was saying.

“Well, I’ll be darned!” said the cattle expert in Wrangler jeans. “I can’t believe I didn’t see that coming. And I wasn’t even gone an hour.”

I rambled on and on, while my father just laughed and lifted his Pheasants Forever cap in order to scratch his head.

“He’s a big bull calf,” he said. Then, in maybe one of the most tender moments I ever had with my father, he reached out and gently tugged on one of my pigtails. “You did a good job.”

I was stunned by his compliment. I hadn’t done anything — the only thing I did was lean against that gate with my wide, wet eyes watching nature happen before me. Oh, I guess I prayed pretty hard.

“Come on, let’s get them home,” he said. After fixing the gate, we did.

Sure, I saw plenty of black and white calves come into the world after that – but there’s nothing like the first time.


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