Stories from south Texas — Part V As Told To Katharyn Rodemann
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THE LONG-AWAITED LUCKY STAR II finally came into the world. We are all beside ourselves with excitement, and no one more so than my daughter, Claudette. (Lucky Star, if you remember, is Claudette’s only and favorite cow, and this is her first baby.) The calf weighs about 82 pounds and already has a tag in her ear marking her as Claudette’s. She is absolutely perfect.
With a herd of more than 1,500, it is amazing how you can focus in on a single cow when it means so much to someone so small. On the ranch, the five grandkids all have cows—plural—except for Claudette, whose sole herd member is Lucky Star. When we palpated cows last January, my son, Royse, and my niece Logan each had a heifer we checked on, as did Claudette. But at that time, Lucky Star was open—meaning she was not bred—while both Royse’s and Logan’s heifers were four months along. There was nothing wrong with Lucky Star, according to our veterinarian; she was just taking her time. It was hard to explain to Claudette that she was not “pegnant,” in her words, like the others were. Still, Claudette was patient, and we put Lucky Star with a new bull. Claudette was sure this was going to work—and it did. Timing is everything.
To be sure she was really bred, my brother, Mitch, palpated Lucky Star again in late August and detected that she was about seven months along, give or take. Claudette began to broadcast the news to everyone she knows. (For a four-year-old, she has quite a network—she just sometimes needs an interpreter.) But first-calf heifers, or cows that are birthing for the first time (“heifer” is the term for a female bovine that hasn’t yet had a calf), tend to have more complications than mature cows, and you can’t take anything for granted. Royse’s heifer, in fact, ended up miscarrying at six months, which was depressing for all of us. Because they are young and new at this, we keep our first-calf heifers—about 175 this fall—together and put them into close pastures so that we can monitor them; if one has trouble (a breach birth, for example), we will take her to the pens and assist her. With all of Claudette’s hopes pinned on Lucky Star, you can imagine the attention on this one cow! She got checked on the cowboys’ morning rounds, then again by me at least twice a day—and then by my parents and probably Mitch. If we watched all our heifers so closely, we’d need ten more employees.
The calf was expected to arrive as early as September. But September came and went, then another week, then another. I think we were ready just a little early. Lucky Star was getting bigger and bigger, and it was clear that her baby was too. The rounds became even more frequent. The calf represented Claudette’s introduction to ranching, and none of us could bear the thought of her disappointment if something were to go wrong. I gently tried to prepare her for the worst—though Claudette was so certain of the glorious outcome that really this was more for myself. I explained that sometimes when we want things so badly, we have to realize that they are not always in our control and that God was watching over Lucky Star. We had to be ready for things to not go right, and if this happened, we would still have each other and we would find another cow for Claudette. Lucky Star’s own mother had died, which Claudette knew, and she seemed to understand. Still, I don’t mind saying that I prayed.
Then, on a recent Sunday, my husband, David, the kids, and I left the ranch to take a family friend to the airport. We checked on Lucky Star on the way out. Nothing. We spent most of the day away, so at about three o’clock we called my parents for an update. Nothing. Two hours later, my parents checked on her again. Still no action. At about five-forty, when we arrived back at the ranch, we decided to swing by the pasture one more time before dark. There was Lucky Star—with the remnants of her water bag hanging out! We immediately alerted everyone. I don’t think any of us have ever been so ecstatic about seeing a cow with discharge.
We turned off the car and watched for a while. Lucky Star was grazing—she loves to eat, no matter what—but as she walked, we could see her back hump up from the contractions. About 25 minutes later, she finally lay down and started pushing, and excitedly, we called Mitch. (It was almost dark, the Cowboys game was about to start, and he was none too pleased with Lucky Star’s timing.) We knew the process would take time, and Mitch suggested we give Lucky Star some space, so as to not stress her. No need to rush things. We’d meet back in an hour.
We drove home, changed into grubby clothes in case Lucky Star might need our help, and tried to keep ourselves busy. Even though I’ve been doing this my whole life, I got online and researched calving. Something about seeing facts in print is calming to the nerves. At seven-thirty, David and I drove back to the pasture with the kids. Mitch had gotten there first, and he approached us with a solemn face. “Do you want to take her to the pens?” he asked. My heart sank. But then he looked at our daughter. “Claudette, had you wanted a bull or a heifer?” Anxiously, Claudette said a heifer. “Good!” Mitch laughed. “Because you got one!”
And there she was. The baby Lucky Star. In the Ranger headlights, you could see her already trying to get up and Lucky Star lovingly licking her. She was covered in afterbirth, but she was beautiful. Mitch went home, and David, Royse, Claudette, and I sat in the car, watching the sight before us. I felt such relief and happiness, as well as gratitude for God’s love of his creatures, the miracle of life, and the love of one’s family. The entire ranch had kept tabs on this nativity because of its significance to Claudette, and now Claudette’s view of ranching was established on a sweet, positive note. Our family had truly been given a gift.
Claudette named Lucky Star II after her mother because, she says, it’s less confusing that way. For a while I tried to convince her otherwise, but just the other day she called my mother—whose name is also Claudette—to tell her how well the Lucky Stars are doing. I guess if you’re four and used to a world with a Big Claudette and a Baby Claudette, you might expect there to be a Lucky Star and a Lucky Star II. So I’ve decided I won’t interfere with her reasoning.