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AMY KIRK: Ranching reality TV

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AMY KIRK: Ranching reality TV
Mitchell South Dakota 120 South Lawler 57301

This time of year the extent of our entertainment opportunities are limited to watching baby calves eat for the first time. They put on an addicting show. We watch them the way some people watch "Duck Dynasty," "Dancing with the Stars," or, dare I say it, "Downton Abbey."

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This year's first calf arrived outside early on Feb. 24 when it was snowy and 13 degrees. The barn was full of cows showing signs of looking ready to calve, but like some cows will do, our first calver didn't show any warning signs.

The cow did her part and had the little bugger licked off, but anytime a calf comes into the world in below-zero temperatures, it doesn't take long for the calf to get chilled before having a chance to get to its feet and wrangle up some grub. The good-sized black calf was alive, but needed its first dose of the survival nectar colostrum in its belly pronto, so we got the pair in the barn.

It's moments like these when we watch a new calf with anticipation, like a favorite television show's premiere episode of a new season. Our preoccupation with watching our first, albeit lethargic calf, quickly became my husband's and my uninterrupted entertainment for the next hour.

We always look a cow over for signs that the calf already found the goods, but there's nothing like seeing with our own eyes a new calf eat for the first time -- especially one born during the night or in cold temperatures. Watching the milk-slurping, tail-whirligigging, bunting and teat-yanking that's all part of calves getting fed according to mother nature is believing that a calf got its belly full of milk and verifies the calf overcame the risk of not surviving. If we don't see it suck, we're apt to go into helicopter parent mode and take over.

Watching begins after the cow is caught in the head catch so she'll stand still and we upright the calf or hold it up to keep it from flopping over. Once we scoot the calf up to its traveling lunch counter, we squirt milk from the cow's udder into the calf's mouth to give it a taste of the good stuff, hoping the critter figures out there's more where that came from. In critical situations, we help the calf figure out what its instincts are by hand-feeding it a teat to hustle its survival along.

Transfixed on what the calf does next, we watch to see if the little snipe figures out on its own where its meals come from. Once the calf samples the goods, we become engrossed watching its reaction. The important plot points of the show are always the same: will the calf find the goods on its own? Will enthusiastic sucking commence? Will it survive? We watch and wait anxiously to see what happens next. The events that unfold after we've helped a calf get milk into its belly captivate our attention. It doesn't matter if watching a calf suck for the first time is a 5-minute episode or a 45-minute episode. When someone's hand goes up, the same rules apply to those present as if we're watching a key scene to a riveting episode: no talking, be quiet and just watch the show.

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