Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Calf Weaning as Writing Inspiration

They say you should write what you know, and right now, I know about decibels. This time of year, I wonder if raising cows is worth the hassle.

Newborns look so innocent
It’s weaning season, which means it’s noisy on the ranch. A lot of farmers calve in the winter and then wean in the summer. We plan our calving (to the extent that we can control the amorous advances of our 2,000 pound bull) for spring. This gives the mothers access to fresh, nutritious grass to help them rebuild their strength after being pregnant through the winter, and also ensures the calves can start grazing as soon as possible. Early grazing helps the calves put on weight because they have access to both milk and grass.

It’s hugely entertaining to watch calves go from wobbly newborns to curious youngsters through the summer. During that time, they’re grazing, nursing, and learning to eat the little bit of feed we give them through those normally green months. They’re also gaining some independence, forming cliques, and venturing away from the herd to graze with their ‘friends’. By the time autumn rolls around, the calves are about six months old and it’s time to stop them from nursing so their mothers can put on weight for the winter and get ready to deliver the next batch of calves. 



Unhappy bull calf...
Despite the calves’ pretensions of independence, they’re still babies at six months old. And like human babies, they bawl for their mothers as soon as they’re separated. The cows add to the noise because their udders are full of milk, but there are no calves around to drink it. So, for a few days, it’s a moo chorus around here, night and day. (Secretly, the cows must heave a sigh of relief when the calves are weaned. It’s hard work nursing a 500 pound baby, and for all the belly-aching, I think the mommas are happy to see the babies weaned.)

Thankfully, our nearest neighbors are about a quarter of a mile away, so it’s only us who lose sleep for these few days. Ear plugs are some help, but it’s amazing how much noise one six month old calf can make, much less a whole herd of them. We’ll give them six weeks to put on some weight, then it’s off to the sale barn they go, to repay some of the investment we’ve made in them and the ranch.

So right now, weaning is what I know. Will I be able to work the experience into a
story? I think so. Whether it’s a neighbor who goes nuts over the noise, a rustler who takes advantage of the chaos to steal some cows, or a calf stampede, yes, I’ll find a use for weaning. And given that I write crime novels, a fictional someone will probably die in the process. Time to find a victim…

photo credit: quinn.anya via photopin cc