By RYAN M. TAYLOR
For the Capital Press
There's a lot of new life getting its start on the ranch these days. Every morning I check to see how many new calves there are in the pasture, and, most every day, one of the more perturbed mothers lets me know I'm too close to her baby when I'm eartagging it.
It's a balance, and sometimes a sprint, to figure out my place in the whole deal as I put myself between mother and offspring. There is a certain amount of respect demanded by, and afforded to, a 1,200-pound mother coming at you with glazed eyes and flared nostrils.
Fear and personal safety is one way to motivate respect for maternity, I guess, at least among ranchers. But, either by vocation or upbringing, that respect spills over onto other mothers and babies I come across that are smaller and less frightful, and who can't put me in the hospital.
An even start
I was one of those kids whose mother would come unglued if she ever heard about or saw me messing with a bird nest or the eggs in it. It didn't matter if it was a lowly barn swallow or something more revered like a sharptail grouse, you could look at it, learn from it, but don't you dare harm it.
Those eggs were the most important thing in that mother bird's world, and she taught me to remember that, even in my mischievous boy stage when I might have felt the temptation to crack an egg or knock down a nest. The lesson stuck.
My father taught me the virtues of orphan care when mothers of one kind or another couldn't feed or care for their youngsters. We learned from baby calves on the kitchen floor who needed shelter, a bottle of warm milk or a scratch on the back to bring them a little comfort in the absence of their mother.
Once, he brought home a couple of orphaned baby badgers that he found along the road. He probably wasn't heartbroken about the dead mother badger that had been digging holes in the middle of our
driveway, but he felt for the two babies who still had their eyes shut and needed some nurturing.
We used a baby bottle to feed the aptly named "Howler" and "Growler," the baby badgers, and "Growler" actually lived to healthy adulthood with our surrogate mothering.
Both of my parents had tender feelings for animals, and, I suppose that's why ranching and country life suited them so well. Sure we were in the beef business, and we knew how to hunt and trap, but springtime was about life's beginnings, not the ends.
Those were the lessons going through my mind when I found a mallard duck hen nesting between two of our hay bales recently.
We're long on ducks and short on hay here, but I've steered clear of those two alfalfa bales to give that mama duck a chance at child-rearing. I showed her nest to our wide-eyed kids who counted the eggs, and inspected the way she drug a little hay over her nest to hide it while she was gone.
They're anxious to go back and see the nest left only with cracked egg shells, and find the mama duck in the nearby pond with her little brood paddling behind her.
Our kids may grow up to hunt ducks when they're older, and eat beef and curse badger holes, but I want them to know that everything gets a fair start in life on this ranch.
At least that's what I was taught.