Yesterday was officially the first day of calving at our place. Or should have been, according the to the artificial insemination schedule. Luckily the old girls were smart enough to keep their cheeks pinched because the temperature never got above zero.
In honor of the season, here's a sneak peek into the pages of the Never Ending Novel. Alex is a girl. The following scene occurs on her parents' ranch in Oregon. Chase is a city kid who just moved out from Seattle. They are both in high school. The cow is a heifer, meaning she's only two years old and this is the first calf she's had, which is when trouble is most likely.
The heifer stood in the pen in the barn looking hunched and miserable and confused. She’d never done this before, and nobody had explained how it was going to work.
Or not work.
Alex cursed. “We’re going to have to pull it.”
“We?” Chase echoed, panic squirting adrenaline into his veins.
“Not you and I,” Alex said, as if it went without saying. “We’ll have to run back to the house and call over to Walkers’ for help.”
For some stupid reason, Chase bristled at the suggestion he was all but worthless. Plus, it would take ten minutes to bounce back up rutted road from the calving barn to the house, and then another half hour or more for someone from the Walker Ranch to drop whatever they were doing and drive ten miles by road or ride three miles cross country to come to the rescue while the poor cow suffered. And who knew what was happening to the calf.
“Isn’t there something we can do to help her?” Chase asked.
Alex shot him an impatient look, already starting for the door. “Sure. You can shove your arm up there and figure out why the calf isn’t coming out.”
Oh. Chase looked at the cow. She looked back at him and gave a low, pitiful moo.
“Okay,” he said.
Alex stopped. “Are you kidding?”
“No.” Chase squared his shoulders. He could do this. Maybe. “Tell me what to do.”
Alex stared at him. Then she laughed. “What the hell. Can’t hurt to try.”
Okay, that was a lie. Which Chase learned shortly after they’d maneuvered the cow into the squeeze chute, and Alex had helped him adjust the sides so the cow couldn’t move, then opened the back gate and showed him which, um, opening he should stick his hand in. He held his breath, prayed a little, and worked his hand into place.
“There’s a foot!” he exclaimed, when his fingers encountered a hoof just inside the passage.
He felt around some, worked his hand past the hoof, along the leg, searching for its mate. The next thing he encountered was a nose. Then a vise clamped down on his arm, mashing it between the calf’s leg and something hard and immovable inside the cow.
Chase sucked in air and tried not to scream.
“Contraction,” Alex said. “It shouldn’t last too long.”
If Chase ever got his arm back, he was going to wipe that grin off her face with his very slimy hand. Forget caution. The instant the contraction ebbed, he shoved his hand deeper into the cow, past the calf’s head. Still no second foot.
“It’s got a leg back,” Alex said. “It won’t come out like that. You have to push the calf back in, find the leg and pull it straight.”
Right. Piece of cake. Chase found the calf’s nose and pushed. Then pushed harder. The cow mooed in protest.
“Sorry,” he muttered, but kept pushing, until his whole arm was inside the cow and his cheek was pressed up against her butt. Finally he had space, and he slid his hand down the calf’s neck, its chest, found an upper leg, then a knee, then a hoof. He tugged and pushed and maneuvered until it popped free. The leg straightened. The two hooves were side by side, leading the way.
“I got it,” Chase said.
“Get out of the way.”
He felt the next contraction starting and yanked his arm free. The calf slithered halfway out, dangling head down. Chase caught it in both arms. The cow hunched up and pushed again and the calf squirted loose. Chase staggered back, tripped, and landed in a heap with the slime covered calf in his lap.
Alex grabbed a burlap bag and crouched awkwardly, her injured leg stuck out to the side. The calf lay motionless as she scrubbed the rough cloth over its body.
“Is it dead?” Chase asked.
She rubbed its ears, over its muzzle. The calf moved. A weak lift of its head. A twitch of its legs. Alex grabbed a piece of straw, slid it into one nostril. The calf sneezed all over Chase’s leg. Within a few minutes, it was on its feet, swaying drunkenly as it rooted at the cow’s udder.
Chase plopped onto his butt in the straw. “Holy shit. We did it.”
Alex raised her eyebrows. “That’s the first time I ever heard you swear.”
“My mother says only idiots need to swear. Smart people use real words.”
Alex grinned. “I can’t wait to tell Trey.”
Chase was too dazed to laugh. Or to care that he was covered with stuff that had turned his stomach when he’d watched the childbirth video in first aid class. None of it mattered when the calf latched onto a teat and began sucking, his tail twitching in pleasure.
Alex lowered herself into the straw beside Chase. “You okay?”
They sat in silence for a few moments, watching the cow try to angle her head around in the chute to get a look at what had caused her so much trouble. They would let her out to lick and nuzzle the baby to her heart’s content as soon as the calf had filled its belly.
Wow. Just…wow. Chase had never imagined seeing something like that, let alone being a part of it. After less than a month, Seattle felt like a distant planet, inhabited by aliens, none of whom he’d had time to miss since he’d met Alex. And if friendship was all she had to offer…well, for this, Chase could live with it.
He angled a sideways glance at her, fighting a smirk as he thought back to his phone conversation with Jason. “Now that we’ve experienced the miracle of childbirth together, do I get to call you Allie?”
Her face went beet red. She narrowed her eyes, bared her teeth.
“Only if you want to know what afterbirth tastes like.”
Postscript, Saturday February 19: Our first babies arrived this morning. This is number two.