We feel very blessed with our life and raising our kids on a cattle ranch. We are able to have a rural lifestyle that allows for lots of time outdoors in the fresh air, running around, doing outside chores, learning responsibility by taking care of animals and the land in our care. Other life lessons that just come naturally with this way of life are learning about love, life and death.

There is nothing sweeter than a new baby animal. We calve in the spring (usually January through March), and also again in the fall, August through October. These times provide our kids and ourselves the chance to see new life. My kids have experienced watching baby calves being born. They have watched the mama cow lick off and dry the baby, urging it to stand and start suckling to get that important first milk—colostrum. After we know they are off to a good start, the kids have helped their dad vaccinate, weigh and tag those new babies.

The most exciting calves are the ones out of heifers or cows the kids have shown. As they have gotten older, my husband has included them in more discussions about genetics and breeding the cattle. They look at the pedigree, phenotype and EPDs, and decide which would be a good mating. It’s always fun for the kids to see a cow they have invested a lot of time into—time in the barn washing, drying, clipping, haltering, leading, showing—have her first calf. Many times it works out great. A healthy, strong calf hits the ground and is ready to go.

But sometimes, it doesn’t.

My kids have also seen when mama cow has experienced problems, the baby bovine comes early, or just isn’t quite right. I’ve seen my husband worry, sweat, and curse because even though we know it happens, every calf we lose, regardless of the situation, still hurts. I see him blame or second guess himself, even when there was nothing he could do. So much thought, care, hard work, time and money go into raising animals that every loss is felt.

We teach our kids it’s OK to be sad. However, we also know this is how life works.

There is life and there is death.

In the same week, our oldest daughter’s ewe lamb had her first baby—a healthy little buck, and one of her show heifers from the previous year had her first calf—a heifer. Unfortunately, it was one my husband had to pull, and the calf didn’t make it, despite all our attempts to save her. It was a hard loss on all of us as we had great expectations for that heifer.

To try to make best of a bad situation, we also tried grafting a little dairy calf onto the first-time mama. We do this so that she can still nurse a calf, which helps her udder develop for future calves she’ll have. We’ve had great success with this in the past, but despite our best efforts by my daughter, husband, myself, and my brother-in-law, we still couldn’t get the calf to nurse his new mom. Even a second attempt at grafting a twin from another heifer was futile.

Times like this are hard, but thankfully they aren’t the norm. You have to love this lifestyle to continue doing it day after day. There’s not a lot of recognition for the work ranchers and farmers do, which is fine. We don’t do it for the praise.

Fortunately, the rest of our calving season went well. Lots of little black, and red and white calves were bucking, running and playing their way through the pastures. Excited discussions about what they are looking like occur daily as we drive through the pastures checking on their progress.

You definitely learn a lot about life and death on a cattle ranch.

But, through it all, there is also tremendous love—for family, for animals, for the land, and for creating a legacy that hopefully lives on long after we are gone.

Originally published on the author’s blog

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Maggie Malson

My husband and I raise cattle and kids on a ranch in Idaho. When I'm not telling the story of agriculture as ag communications professional, you can find me photographing any person or animal I can get in front of my lens, making up recipes in my kitchen with leftover ketchup packets or binging on Netflix.

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