AMY KIRK: Mirages - Farmers often see things not there as calving season nearsIt’s that time of year around here — that threshold to calving season when we frequently see ranch mirages in our pasture.
By: Amy Kirk, The Daily Republic
It’s that time of year around here — that threshold to calving season when we frequently see ranch mirages in our pasture.
Ranch mirages occur because several weeks before cows start to calve we are on what we call “high-alert” status. It causes us to see balled-up baby calves shaped out of chunks of brown tubless mineral lick tubs (shaped like a lick tub but without the container) or brown-colored, licked-down salt blocks but the most common mirages are cowpie mounds.
When we’re on high alert we look around with a cautionary eye for signs of calving going on. Concern mounts anytime there’s a snowstorm forecast in our area that could bring on early calving. When the beginning of calving season is looming we want to be around when the first one shows up.
We start paying closer attention to how our cows act, and look for unusual behavior especially if we see them off by themselves in the weeks leading up to our calving start date. Sometimes we even go so far as to do a head count of the cows that come to feed. Anything that doesn’t show up could be off calving somewhere.
Being on high-alert status is when I catch myself staring more at a cow’s rear end when its tail is raised for an extended amount of time. It’s a universal sign for calving — or peeing — and can create a mirage that she’s calving.
High-alert status calls for digging out the binoculars. It’s binoculars that settle any question from our kitchen window whether we’re looking at a lifeless calf, a live calf, or just a cowpie because the binoculars never lie.
From now until calving season, my over-imaginative mind is very busy making up mirages. I begin to see things I didn’t notice before that all looks like a calf on the ground.
This is how it happens for me occasionally: I’ll be looking out my kitchen window and see a cow that causes suspicion. She’ll be licking at away at something on the ground and it moves.
I’ll watch her for a minute and focus my eyes right on what she’s licking. It’ll move again so I’ll go get the binoculars to confirm my conclusion that, “Yep, she’s cleaning off a calf!”
A few seconds of panic sets in while I get the binoculars to cooperate so I can see through them to confirm it. Nope; upon closer examination it’s turns out to be just a chunk of mineral tub she rolled away from its designated spot while she licked at it.
There’s a bit of an uneasiness felt until the first calf shows up. It’s a time of limbo that can feel like pre-calving purgatory, wondering how our season is going to start off. Even though there may not be any truth to such a theory, sometimes we let ourselves believe the state of the first calf that arrives will dictate what our calving season will be like.
When the first one is found alive it’s always considered a good omen but until our cows actually start having their calves, all eyes are on cowpies.
Amy Kirk and her husband raise their two kids on a fourth-generation cow/calf operation near Pringle. She blogs at ranchwifeslant.areavoices.com