We see so many glamorous images of the “cowboy”. A man tall on his horse out galloping across the plains, defending good and right, wiping the trail dust from his face as he greets his good woman who has been waiting for him in a clean tidy home with well behaved children.
I paused while busy trying to keep this calf alive and out of the mud, long enough to take this picture so I could share the reality. He was unlucky enough to be born just as a late May storm dropped over four inches of snow on us all. I’m not sure the vast amounts of mud show clearly enough for anyone to get the full picture.
People so seldom mention the reality of the “cowboy”. The mud and sweat and tears. The fact that many of us are actually the women waiting at home, with a filthy house because we’ve been out trying our dangdest to keep the cattle alive, with children who are half wild animals themselves.
There may be a few who are all pretty, in cowboy hats, chaps, and jangling spurs. A cap stays on better though and can be worn with a warm hat to keep our ears from freezing, and I’m usually covered in too much mud for spurs to still jangle even if I had any interest in wearing them.
I love my cow horse and use him when I can, but a fourwheeler can carry me and two children and the dog and the husband when we are all working together to get the job done. It may not be as romantic but a fourwheeler is also easier to carry calves on. After I manage to heft them up onto the back getting covered in mud, poop, and slime up to my shoulders. But at least I can get them up there.
No one talks about that smell that is unique to baby calves. A mixture of afterbirth, poop, and mud. The way it embeds its self into your fingernails, refusing to wash out no matter how much soap you use or how hard you scrub. Only to waft up to your nose then every time you try to eat. The way it permeates your house, brought in on the clothes coated in it but needed again too soon to have time to wash, so instead they come in to dry out and add a unique perfume to the house. One that can’t be found in any fancy candle.
The anguish of new lives lost despite a hard battle is glossed over. The people who supposedly love animals but can only respond to death and loss with comments about how they aren’t native, how can they be expected to live, or that they were going to be slaughtered anyway, what difference does it make? In their apparent lack of understanding of the difference between a life well lived and a meaningful death, they degrade all life.
Still we are out here fighting to maintain our way of life. Fighting to keep them all alive. Fighting to keep putting one foot in front of another and make it through another day. Always fighting.
And those times when it works, when a calf pulls through and can go back to its mama. The times when the morning frost tips the hair of the cows and horses in white. When the meadow lark sings loud and clear from a fence post as you pass. All those little moments make it well worth it. Mud and all.