This week we’ve had another dose of good, old-fashioned awful weather. Lots of snow, lots of wind, and freezing temperatures are never anyone’s first choice, but unfortunately, we’ve now also started calving, which makes the stakes even higher. No one gets much sleep when babies can be born any time of day or night and nasty weather makes their chances of survival slim if for some reason their mama isn’t able to do her job.
Thankfully, most mama cows have strong instincts to get their babies cleaned, dried, and up drinking warm milk. The cozy layer of straw in the big barn where they spend the night also helps. Still, if something goes wrong, it doesn’t take long for a newborn to get dangerously chilled down.
I could write this column every single year because inevitably there is some weather event during March or April that makes the ordinarily labor-intensive job of calving significantly more labor-intensive. Of course, some folks solve the problem by calving later in the spring, but that means they must wean later in the year. It also means all the other summer jobs get delayed, which with our current setup isn’t really an option. And thus the yearly lament commences.
This year, however, reading that the weather forecast included glacial winds during the storms that were going to switch direction multiple times during the week of daily snow, my husband decided to invest in mobile tin windbreaks. What a difference. Even as the various storms raged, the mothers and babies were cozy behind the windbreaks with bales of hay rolled out for snacking and snuggling.
This week’s other interesting challenge came in the form of a prescription that needed to be picked up at our nearest pharmacy, 45 miles away. There was going to be a brief break in the weather, and I had planned to make the drive first thing in the morning before heading back home for an online meeting.
I made it 10 miles outside town before I realized that even though this was the “break” in the storm, the driving was still extremely difficult with shifting drifts and patches of ice on the highway. There was no way I was making it to pick up the prescription and back in time for the meeting, or, I feared, back before the wind and snow started up again.
Country life comes with country problems, but it also comes with country solutions. I pulled over and called the pharmacy. “Any chance there’s someone else coming in this morning from our neck of the woods who can pick up my package for me?” I asked.
“Not that I know of,” was the answer. “But sometimes if there’s a deputy from the sheriff’s office in town, they’ll pick up prescriptions for folks. You should call the county courthouse,”
I did. “No, I’m not going up there today unless there’s an emergency, but I’ll let you know if I hear of anyone who is,” was the reply. “Maybe try Facebook?”
So, I put up a post on our community’s page and in a few short minutes my plea had been answered by multiple folks who were attending a farm show in the neighboring town. “I can run over to the pharmacy right now and I’ll drop it off on my way home,” messaged a friend.
So all’s well that ends well. The weather’s shifted for now, though it’s far from certain that the worst of it is behind us. Our portion of the plains is famous for April and even May blizzards. But we’ve got the new windbreaks, our own tenacity, and it’s also nice to be reminded that while our neighbors are few, they’ve got our backs. Adversity is a lot easier to face when you know you aren’t facing it alone.
Meanwhile, all the snow that’s piled in corrals and layered over gates and hardened into drifts across the pasture is just moisture waiting to green the grass as soon as the sun warms the earth again, and that’s the best news of all.
Eliza Blue lives on a ranch in northwest South Dakota. She’s a musician, mom, author, and shepherd. She writes a column for newspapers in her region and produces audio commentary for South Dakota Public Radio. You can learn more about Eliza on her website.