An email from the school counselor popped up on my phone.
After all schools in Montana were closed this week to slow Covid-19, the counselor offered strategies to encourage mental wellness.
She suggested getting dressed every day.
And outlining a schedule each day.
She wants all of us to stay connected – at a distance – yet limit time on social media.
Set up a space to do homework.
She suggested great activities for the homebound, including drawing, coloring, journaling, listening to music, reading a good book and watching feel-good movies.
I sincerely appreciate the counselor’s concern.
But March is calving season at the ranch.
Getting dressed is mandatory and it happens before daylight.
My 13-year-old daughter, Abby, and I have a schedule every day. Whether a cow who needs help or a cold calf or a broken tractor kicks that schedule clear into tomorrow remains to be seen.
Abby will manage to get her homework done, but she hasn’t been bored since she was 7 years old. Back then, she was recovering from a bug, but was not yet well enough to go outside.
I replied to the counselor that Abby and I are having a grand time. Poor mental health during this coronavirus crisis is for people who actually like to be around other people.
The first day of self-imposed social isolation started at the barn.
We had a young calf and his mama in the corral, but she wouldn’t let him nurse. He had been stretched out in a snowstorm with his eyes rolled back into his head when we found him two days before. He spent the night in the kitchen of the Graham Ranch Bed and Breakfast and then we returned him to his personal birth place. The cow wasn’t quite sure he was her baby. The last time she saw her baby he couldn’t even stand up, much less nurse.
Abby and my brother, Roger, hauled the calf on the flatbed while I herded the cow for a mile and a half back to the corral. As soon as the cow found the head-catch and squeeze, she stood for the calf. The next morning, she needed another reminder.
Abby brought the cow up the chute while I monitored the head-catch and marveled at the far-higher success rate of getting the cow into the chute with two people instead of one.
The calf nursed.
Abby and I headed to the hay lot.
I had broken the tractor loader the day before, but with two drivers, I had a feeding plan. I would drive the skid steer while Abby drove the flatbed. I could load a 1400-pound round bale on the flatbed and carry a second bale, cutting the number of my trips to the cows in half.
It was time for Abby to learn to strap on a bale and then get it off.
I showed her once how to park the truck at the top of a decent hill, then gun the truck in reverse and slam on the brakes. Typically, the bale would roll off.
If the truck actually stopped, of course.
Abby got the first bale off the pickup, but it didn’t roll out. She apologized before I had a chance to say it wasn’t her fault. We rolled the bale together, laughing all the time.
Then the slippery snow confounded my plan. The truck would not stop quickly enough to allow natural physics to take over. Abby was worried about our lack of success with our first try, but I used the skid steer to roll the bale off the pickup.
Then it was time to drive the tractor into town.
The day before, I drove the tractor backward from the pasture to the shop – about a mile and a half. The loader hydraulics had quit me in the middle of feeding. I did not want to drive the tractor backward 10 miles into the mechanic.
So I used a chain and a couple of pieces of ratchet strap to tie up the loader. I didn’t want the forks to gouge the asphalt.
Abby followed in the pickup, grinning the entire way.
Abby and her counselor thought school was out when classes were canceled.
Neither knew an education was only beginning.
Some people might call mandatory experiences “slave labor.” I prefer to call them a valuable partnership.
With a lot of laughs and high-fives.
Lisa Schmidt raises grass-fed beef and lamb at the Graham Ranch near Conrad. She has two children; Will, 21, and Abby, 13. Lisa can be reached at L.Schmidt@a-land-of-grass-ranch.com.