Sometimes I take my job for granted. An innocent, "It'll be fun for Dylan to go feed cows with me," turns into a week of fielding questions about butt-births and dead-piles. I don't usually answer the tough questions well under pressure; I stammer out my answers and feel like Christine O'Donnell trying to explain Wicca. So when Dylan's pre-school teachers ask me about our dead-pile, I usually just start talking about the BCS ranking system or what a great poem "Gunga Din" is.
As you may have guessed, Dylan saw her first live calf birth last week. Dad, Dylan, and I were feeding the last herd of the day and we spotted a heifer that we thought might be getting ready to calve. Our years and years of cattle-handling experience told us that we should keep an eye on her. Oh, and the calf's front feet were Superman-ing out from beneath the heifer's tail. Another sure sign that she was calving.
We pointed her out to Dylan, who didn't seem interested, and kept feeding. The heifer hadn't calved when we finished, so I started knotting a make-shift calf-puller from some baling twine. As I tied my last knot, a little, slimy black calf came shooting out. Dylan's screams didn't spook the heifer and we waited as the calf shook off some of the goo and the mama licked it clean.
Miracle of Life! Hooray! And, on to the next chore. But not for Dylan, she couldn't stop talking about it. Now, she'll tell anyone who'll listen about the calf that came from its mommy's butt and it was covered in a plastic bag. For a three-year old, she's pretty close, and for me, I see no reason to correct her. If she turns thirty and still thinks that babies come from your butt, we may have to have "the talk," but not yet.
When she isn't talking about the mysterious butt-births at Hanna Bros., she's talking about our dead-pile. The dead-pile is exactly as it sounds: it's a place where our dead animals go. A ranch cemetery, minus the headstones and manicured lawns. Unfortunately, we had to take a calf there last week (not the same one we saw being born). It's not uncommon to visit the dead-pile this time of year, but I guess Dylan hadn't really ever been there. I told her that all sorts of dead things go there: cows, deer, once, a llama, and horses. My mistake. I should have left out the horse part. I dug a deeper hole (no pun there, nothing at the dead-pile gets buried), when I told her that Olivia saw a bear at the dead-pile. Now everyone, including her pre-school teachers, has heard the story of the dead bear (it wasn't), the dead baby calf, and the dead horses that inhabit our dead-pile.
Births, deaths ... they're normal conversations for ranchers. But when I see the question on people's faces when Dylan brings these topics up, I realize most three-year olds -- hell, most adults -- don't see new life and death on a daily basis. At least, when the time comes, and I'm asked to sign the pink sex-ed permission slip, I'll have nothing to worry about; it'll all be old news to my kids.