A Farmer’s “Ladies”

Right now, my husband is obsessed with other women. One hundred and nine of them, to be precise.

Of course, I should probably point out that the other women in his life are of the bovine variety, so there’s not much reason to be jealous. Still, ever since our surprise Christmas calf arrived much earlier than expected, Farmer Dan’s bred heifers and his cows are constantly on his mind. His “ladies,” as he lovingly calls them, are the first thing he checks on in the morning and the last thing he sees before bed. If he’s not with them, he’s talking about them and sending me pictures of them. My phone is full of photos of cows that look exactly the same, though he assures me that once you know them, it’s easy to tell them apart.

Although we are still a few weeks away from the first due date of his new bred heifers (first time mamas), Dan’s concern for his ladies has been escalating with the plummeting temperatures. On the farm, the extra chilly conditions mean more feed, bedding and attention for the herd, which translates into more time spent outside in the bitterly cold weather at all times of the day and night.

Now, I’m no stranger to a South Dakota winter, but when you work in an office all day, you tend to forget how cold it really gets outside. It was good for me, then, to get a small dose of reality the other day when Dan’s feed wagon got a flat tire and needed to be towed back to the shed or risk not being able to start in the morning. With only two of us living on the farm, I got tapped to get behind the wheel and steer as Dan’s larger tractor worked to pull the smaller tractor and feed wagon out of its awkwardly stuck position. I did my best to remember what the clutch did, where the brakes were and when to put the tractor into gear – it’s harder than it sounds, trust me! – and with a little luck and only a few choice words, we got the equipment put away for the night.

This small breakdown, though hardly noteworthy on the farm, made me pause and appreciate the amount of sacrifice and work that goes into being a livestock farmer. I spent fewer than five minutes shivering outside in the cold wind as Dan prepped the tractor with chains, and it was painfully, miserably cold. But that’s the thing I’m learning about the farm – no matter how unpleasant the task, some things can’t be put off. Someone’s got to do them, and when you’re a small family farmer, 99 percent of the time that person is you.

As Dan’s new bred heifers begin to calve later this month and into March, I know that many freezing, sleepless and stressful nights loom in front of him. (Lest you think I am not willing to help when it comes to farm chores, I have seriously offered my assistance to help take on a few of the night shifts. However, I’m not sure Dan thinks I’m quite familiar enough with all of his farm jargon to be of much help yet. When he asks if a heifer is “springing,” he does not mean walking with a spring in her step because she’s so happy to give birth. The same goes for “bagging up.” Before Googling these terms, remember that some things cannot be unseen!)

Is it difficult to watch Dan head out in layers upon layers in the middle of the night and come back to bed chilled to the bone? Yes, it is. Farming is not an easy job, no matter how much you love it, and it can be thankless at times, especially when things inevitably happen – a newborn calf dies, or a cow refuses to take care of her calf. But there are few things my farmer talks more fondly of than his ladies, and that’s how despite it all – the snow, the stress and the sleepless nights – I know it’s all worth it.

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