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Irons in the fire: Paradox

Paul Marchant for Progressive Cattleman Published on 23 March 2018

The changing seasons and my constant struggle with those changes provides me with plenty of writing fodder. It seems that no matter what Ma Nature throws at me or lays at my feet, I can find a reason to whine about it. There are those around me who might use a different term to describe my incessant “complaining,” but I try to keep my musings as family-friendly as possible.

Now, don’t be getting all pious and self-righteous on me. If you’re reading this, chances are that you are not too far removed from being very dependent on the dirt and what goes into it to provide for your daily bread. If that’s the case, I’m willing to bet that not many of your prayers that drift heavenward are offered sans a plea for some sort of change in the weather – warmer, wetter, drier – just please change it.

I suppose some of the grousing can be excused. If you’re in the business of feeding the world, you should be entitled to an occasional frustrated gripe.

In my home country of the high desert and mountains of south-central Idaho, we’re pretty dependent on wintertime snow to provide for summer irrigation water. Believe me. I’m all for that. But I wish I had a little more directional and timely control. I want it to snow on the mountains east of the homeplace every day from Thanksgiving until Valentine’s Day. After that, Jack Frost had better start looking for another playground.

I start calving in the middle of February. Hence, I’d prefer a more temperate climate from then until, oh … December.

I’d start calving later, but I like to have the cows go through two cycles before we head to the mountain. Once we turn out, the bulls’ work gets a lot tougher. If Mr. Toro has an ounce of lazy in him, he may well go without female companionship until after the fall gather. I wish I were more like the textbook ideal, low-cost, do-everything-right operator. But I’ll let you in on a secret. My calving season stretches out past the 45-day mark, though I may have to lie about that if you ask me in public.

Now that we’re past the lengthy introduction, I can get to the heart of the matter. This past winter was – how do I say this without vulgarity? It was awful. I’ll leave it at that. By the calendar, it was wonderful. We had a couple of nice snowstorms in December, and in January, it turned instantly to April: temperatures in the 40s and as dry as a Mormon town on Sunday. Those guys who calved in January looked like geniuses.

I had timed my calving period to start just as the girls’ high school basketball season and my coaching duties ended. And just as I’d planned it, the first calves came the day the Oakley High School Lady Hornets were crowned as state champions for the first time since 1930.

Two days later, the curse of the prophet groundhog took full effect. For 20 straight days, we didn’t see the temperatures get above 25ºF, with several nights in the single digits. It snowed every other day. One storm gave us a foot of snow in 45 minutes. The dirt farmers, who are usually living the dream at full speed the first week in March, were still stuck in their shops.

It was not good calving weather, and I was not prepared for it. I spent the nights with the cows, surviving on the half hour of sleep I could steal every few hours. If a calf didn’t get right up, it turned into a veal Popsicle. I spent the nights rescuing babies and the days trying to get them to mother up. What a joy this cowboy thing turned out to be!

It was surely a season of teaching. Whether or not the lessons were fully learned won’t be fully realized until the next year I calve in the dead of winter. It may be next year, or it may be in 10 years. One thing I’m sure of is the paradoxical nature of life. I want snow, but only at specific times and particular places.

I want trouble-free weather for my calving season, but I want to calve before I turn out. I want cheap steel, but I want it to be produced domestically. I want my kids and their kids to be honest and upstanding, but I want to skip church on Sundays, cheat on my taxes and cuss the cows with impunity on every day.

No doubt, principle must be tempered with practicality, but neither should convenience overrule moral ideals. Life and the choices it offers won’t always be easy, so you just as well learn how to set your compass, keep your head down during the storms and enjoy springtime when it finally shows up.  end mark

Paul Marchant
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