COLUMN: Watching newborn calves take first breath of life

Life of a Farm Wife column looks at newborn calves and birth

Shanna Jordan

Life of a Farm Wife

It’s incredible what something as simple as a deep breath can do.

It’s the very first thing we experience as we enter the world, and it’s the very same thing I’ve had the pleasure of watching time and time again as each new calf hits the ground.

That first deep breath – the breath of life. Breath, in my opinion, is just one of the many things we take for granted far too often. It’s easy to take for granted really, that is, until you’ve had it taken away (if you’ve ever had the wind knocked out of you, you know what I mean).

These last few weeks the power of our simplest function has absolutely fascinated me. One of my fondest memories of calving on the ranch is the first time I experienced a live calf birth. It’s incredible to watch something that is alive but at the same time in a state of pending life. Those fleeting moments where the willingness to fight for breath will mean the difference between life and death.

As I watched that very first calf hit the straw-bed after its birth I stood watching, holding my breath, as if holding my own breath would help the calf to take his. Those moments when you stand over a new life, waiting and watching, desperately hoping to see it take that first deep breath, feel like they last far too long.

It’s often true that after a stressful birth a rancher will attempt a few tricks to encourage a new calf to breathe, such as tickling its nostrils with straw, and rubbing their hand down its back.

And while these tricks can perhaps be useful in certain situations, it is also true that they don’t always work.

But if those calves do take that gasp of air, I’m sure their rancher’s sigh of relief can be heard from miles away.

There’s just something about calving season that makes me so aware of how precious breath really is. I watch as my ranchers do all they can to give breath to each little calf, but the reality is that sometimes they fail, not for a lack of trying, but simply because we have no power over it.

Through these experiences, I’ve come to be reminded that though we may do all we can to preserve it, sometimes breath is taken away, and sometimes there is no breath given at all.

But while it lasts, we can certainly appreciate that each breath we are given is a gift worth being thankful for.

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