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Across the fence: One of these things is not like the others

Marci Whitehurst for Progressive Cattle Published on 24 December 2021

New Year’s.

A time to be excited about what we are looking forward to in the new year and reflect on the year that is passing. Our entire world has seen much change and uniqueness in the last year. Personally, we also saw change with a move. We are thankful for this opportunity.

I’m also reflecting on new things I saw this year: new people, new places and new information. We’ve seen facts change almost as often as the nightly news. We also saw something new – and unique – with the wildlife at our new place.

We have quite a bit of wildlife in Montana. Sometimes deer, elk, even moose may wander through a town. We have some wildlife around us and I like watching them, although sometimes they cause issues with hay or straw that hasn’t been baled yet.

This fall, though, we had a unique calf show up.

She didn’t look like the others.

At all.

A little taller than most of our calves, a little more brown, and I can’t begin to come up with a body score. I wouldn’t know how to quantify it.

She stuck around our herd for about a month, until we shipped calves.

It turns out, her mama was hit on the highway, so she needed a family. I guess ours was the closest.

An elk calf.

An elk calf doesn’t behave like cattle when you try to move them. At first, she burrowed into the group, her ears sticking up from the middle of the herd, like she was thinking, “Maybe they won’t see me …” Then, she was a little flighty. She wanted to take the lead and bounce across the field. Some of the cows tried to follow her because she was pretty fast and took off out front.

Watching cattle follow an elk calf is probably akin to what might happen if cattle drank out of a beer vat instead of the creek – they scuttled sideways, then back, then forward. The crew moved ahead of the cows and turned the cows to move the right direction. So back came the little elk calf.

She tried to blend in with the others but when the cows started moving again, especially as we got closer to the corral, she decided maybe she didn’t want to be a bovine after all and bounced across the field.

We were beginning to wonder if she was going to come in the corrals and we’d move her through the chute with the others.

That would’ve made for some conversation.

“Did you see our new calf?”

“Yeah, tagging her was a bit interesting …”

She didn’t even come close to coming in the corrals. She did flit about the field around us wondering where her bovine friends were.

Then she discovered the smaller group of cows below the house – the ones we didn’t bring up to the chute, and off she went for some companionship.

She stayed with that group for a couple days and eventually made her way back up to the larger group of cows. The cows didn’t seem to mind that she hung around. They seemed to know she needed protection. A group. A buddy.

She stayed with them until we had to move them again. And off she went – bounding across the field like a Montana kangaroo.

We saw her around for a little over a month. I haven’t seen her much the last few days. We moved the cows down the road a ways, and I half expected her to show up in that pasture with them, but we haven’t seen her.

An elk that hangs out with bovines. There is a first time for everything.

And I guess in a weird way, that brings me a bit of hope: There are still first times, first things to look forward to in this new year.

My hope and prayer for the new year is that we as the human race won’t be so polarized. I hope we can come together, work together and still hold on to our individual beliefs. I hope for greater health, less fear and new opportunities. I pray our communities grow stronger and that what we’ve been through leads us to a place where we also grow.

I know there were losses; we’ve all felt them. I honor those people, those things, which we’ve lost.

There were also births and there will be more births.

And there was light. Just like the candles many of us light on Christmas Eve, may the light continue to grow through the new year and light a path. May hope rise up and never be lost.

And if we feel like a wandering elk calf, may we find our herd and be at peace. end mark

Marci Whitehurst is a freelance writer, ranch wife and the mother of three children. You can follow her on her blog (Cowboy Wife).

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