One of the great things about raising kids on a ranch is all of the first hand experiences they get to have that most children don’t. Having the room to run and explore and get dirty. Getting to go to work with Dad whenever possible and seeing first hand all of the hard work that goes into ranching. Learning up close, the whole process of where food actually comes from. And the newest addition to our list of “must learns”, that with new life on a ranch comes death as well. I honestly wasn’t looking forward to this.
They already knew that full-grown cattle get sold and shipped and that’s where our meat comes from. Not a big deal. However this is their first calving season so I wasn’t sure how they would take learning that sometimes calves die too. They surprised me.
The conversation at the dinner table when Jason would be home was always about how many babies there had been that day. Inevitably the day came when they had lost one and the kids were told. It was explained that this was just part of life. Sometimes they aren’t healthy, sometimes they have mammas who don’t have the instinct to take care of them, sometimes they freeze before someone can get them to the barn. They were sad, but Jason is good at explaining everything with compassion and also down to earth common sense, so they were left knowing that this stuff just happens.
Then along came Ralph.
Ralph was born small, and we couldn’t tell if he was just weak or if maybe he wasn’t quite formed the way he was supposed to be. They brought him and his mamma into the barn below the house since he couldn’t stand up, which translates into he couldn’t eat. Jason then had the job of milking her and feeding him.
The milking of a very nervous and protective mamma is not a job that just anybody can do, but thankfully Jason is very good and what he does so he got it done with minimum fuss. Next came the part that the kids could help with!
Beau even got in on the action but since I was holding him and the camera, well, you can understand why I didn’t get a picture of it! This was an experience that I wanted my kids to have. One that just isn’t common for kids anymore. And they LOVED it! So when it was decided that they would have the job of taking care of the baby since they are right here anyway, they were thrilled. immediately they named him Ralph, we are reading The Mouse and the Motorcycle in school right now, and worked out a pattern of who got to feed him when.
The problem was that Ralph was not getting stronger. In fact, it was getting harder and harder to get him to eat anything. He wouldn’t try to stand on his own and when we helped him by holding him up he just hung there. We were even to the point where we had to hold his head upright to make him eat. Ralph was losing his will to live and Jason and I knew what was coming. Telling the kids was not something that I wanted to do. They knew about death from Jason’s daily tellings, but this was different. This was something that they had personally been working on. Something that they had talked about and even included in their night-time prayers. Oh how I dreaded it!
Jason did it for me. He explained to them what was going on and told them that Ralph would probably not live through the night. They were sad but optimistic that somehow he would pull through anyway. He didn’t. And this time Jason wasn’t there to do the telling. In my mommy mind, trudging back from the barn after my early morning discovery, I imagined how it would go. The torrent of tears. The moping that would disrupt the rest of the day. The struggle to get them to do school or even play. How was I going to deal with a day full of them all being heartbroken? In preparing myself for all of this ( and probably more ), I made myself cry! I walked as slowly as I could trying to sort out the best wording, but it’s not a far walk from the barn to house so I was soon out of time. I brace, I tell, and…….not much happens.
Don’t get me wrong, they were sad. But somewhere during this last year, they had become tougher and more resilient than I had given them credit for. They asked if he had suffered and if he was in heaven now. When these were answered to their satisfaction they simply asked if they could take care of the next bum calf that came along. Not what I was expecting but a very welcome alternative!
Ranch life is looking pretty darn good on my kids and I couldn’t be prouder of them!