From a photograph by Solomon D. Butcher of four daughters of rancher Joseph M. Chrisman, at their sod house in Custer County, Nebraska. From left to right, Harriet, Elizabeth, Lucie, and Ruth. Photographed in 1886.

Thursday, March 01, 2007

Spring Blizzards of the Sandhills Remembered

All In The Family... Another Trip Down Memory Lane... Life in the Nebraska Sandhills...



The reports of snowstorms on the northern side of this big weather front reminded me of spring blizzards during my childhood in northern Nebraska. In every blizzard, my parents worked terribly hard caring for the cattle, but in a spring blizzard, there were the newborn calves to worry about, too.

I remember waking one snowy morning and realizing that school must have been cancelled because my mom had let me sleep so late. When I stumbled into the bathroom, my mom was bent over the bathtub, rubbing the limbs of a nearly-frozen newborn calf, trying to revive his circulation and his will to live.

Bringing calves into the house was a desperate measure, of course, but every effort had to be made because the calves were the income of our family.

I remember calves that thawed out, had a little warm milk poured into them and recovered enough to clatter around on their hard little hooves. My mom had some baby gates to keep a calf corralled in the back hallway until he was returned to his mother. I remember Mama putting newspapers on the floor, but I imagine there were some messes to clean up.

Hopefully the mother cow still remembered and claimed her little calf after he had disappeared for a few hours. If she didn't, she had to be brought into the barn and persuaded by various means to let the calf nurse, and eventually she would probably accept him as her own again. (Cows aren't too bright.)

Meanwhile the blizzard raged on and my parents tried to get hay to all the cattle and see about their water as well as watch over the pregnant cows and the newborns. With luck, maybe the tractor started as it should, and no mechanical pieces jammed or snapped and no snowdrifts impeded their work.

The blizzard took its toll on the people who were exposed to it as well as the animals. Of course they bundled up as warmly as possible, but the stress of the cold temperatures and the wind were exhausting, as was the effort of wading through snow all day and trying to work with cold-numbed hands.

They checked the cows again before they went to bed and they got up in the night and checked them again. If help was needed by a cow or calf, they did whatever was necessary in the cold darkness, and with little sleep, they began these gruelling efforts again the next morning.

And there were times when tremendous effort was made but the blizzard still claimed the lives of some little calves.

These are the reasons that I worried about the ranchers today when March roared in with a frigid blast of snow and wind.

Bar

Note: This was originally part of another post, but I made an editorial decision that it should be separated.

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3 comments:

Genevieve said...

My friend Sammie in Nebraska sent me an interesting comment about half-frozen baby calves.

"I tried to comment on the frozen calf story but wasn't able to. We still have crappy phone lines out here and our internet leaves a lot to be desired....

"... About the calf story, when I was 9 or 10, Dad brought in one of those frozen calves that went into the bathtub. I worked with him most of the day and he lived. We kids didn't get animals except in name only. (When they became a nuisance or weren't of any use any more they were gone). But Dad did give me that calf which made me proud!

"We did have a bad blizzard the last couple days! I am sure there were several calves lost! Thank God we didn't have a lot of snow but it snowed about 2 inches and that was enough to blow bad."

Mourningdove's Serendipity said...

I love your blog and have subscribed to it. You have a wonderful talent for picturesque writing that brings back the simpler times through a child's eyes. I can relate to so much. Thanks.

Mourningdove

http://mourningdoveserendipity.blogspot.com

Genevieve said...

I am really pleased that you enjoyed this story, Mourningdove. Thank you so much for your note.

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CONTENTMENT: Keep your heart free from hate, your mind from worry, live simply, expect little, give much, sing often, pray always, forget self, think of others and their feelings, fill your heart with love, scatter sunshine. These are the tried links in the golden chain of contentment.
(Author unknown)

IT IS STILL BEST to be honest and truthful; to make the most of what we have; to be happy with simple pleasure; and to be cheerful and have courage when things go wrong.
(Laura Ingalls Wilder, 1867-1957)

Thanks for reading.