Ann Bailey: The story of a cattle ranch brings memories together

Between the COVID-19 pandemic that reduced social interactions and sub-zero temperatures last week that discouraged me from venturing outside, I felt pretty bleak in my personal life. During this time, the weather also interrupted many activities, so I was at a loss for story ideas for the Grand Forks Herald.

Fortunately, because of my love for agriculture and animals, I found a solution to get out of the winter doldrums and please my editors: write a story about a rancher calving his cows in the brutal weather.

Tuesday February 9

I called Dahlen, ND, Simmental breeder Terry Ellingson, who told me that Eric Hylden, the Herald photographer, and I could visit him that afternoon. Bundled up in the down winter coat, boots and mittens I wear for my own farm chores, I drove to Ellingson’s farm and met Hylden and Ellingson. The three of us spent a few hours talking about calving and touring Ellingson’s barns and corrals. Spending time in the freezing cold and resisting the west wind as we walked among the calves and cows was the perfect remedy for my winter-weary soul.

Hearing Ellingson talk about his love for his cattle, the daily and nightly checks he performs on them during calving season, and seeing those Simmentals well cared for not only boosted my spirits, but it also brought back memories.

As I told Ellingson, some of my best times on the farm were tending to the cattle. I loved to ride horses and watch the cows in the summer, drive them in the fall from the farm to the stubble fields where they graze and help my dad calve in late winter and early spring.

My father, like Ellingson, calved when the temperatures were still cold. Our barnyard turned into a muddy, sloppy mess when the ground thawed, so it was better for calves to be born in the cold than in

humid conditions, which could make them sick from various diseases.

Also, like Ellingson, my father used a series of corrals and barns in which he rotated pregnant cows, calving cows and calves during freezing temperatures.

When I was at the start of elementary school, I often went with my dad when he checked the calves that were inside in cold weather. In high school on late nights I went with my dad for late night calving checks. Occasionally I would help with a difficult birth and at other times I would observe her callused hands gently guiding a calf to its mother’s udder to nurse it. Sometimes we would both stand, in silence, watching the herd of cattle and calves lying on beds of straw, sleeping quietly as steam rose from their noses into the wintry air.

It’s been over 30 years since I checked out calves and cows on freezing winter nights and hot summer days with my dad, but the memories, stung by my trip to a ranch, are as vivid as the day they were created. I am grateful for the trip down memory lane launched last week at Ellingson’s Simmentals near Dahlen.

It warmed my heart and lifted my spirits.

Ann Bailey is a reporter for the Grand Forks Herald who writes a personal column twice a month.

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