~ Riceland Meadows ~

A Christmas Gift
by Ralph Rice

Pellets of icy snow whip around the barnyard, scattered by the wind, and begin piling on the frozen ground in small drifts against the buildings. The sound alone of the wind howling across the empty pastures is enough to make me turn up my collar. With the cold nipping at my ears, I hurry to the barn.

Stepping into the warm barn I greet my animal charges. They all looked up as they chew their cuds or munch from their mangers, and the horses nicker softly. The chores have been done for awhile now, and all the animals are content, full, and ready to bed down for the night. All but one.

In the corner stall a heifer rests uncomfortably as her calf's birthday approaches. She has been restless since chore time. She lies down and strains a bit, then rises and shuffles in the stall. I sit and wait for the birthing to begin.

Back at the house my wife and family share cookies and conversation on this Christmas Eve. The children play and laugh excitedly, enjoying each other's company and the magic Christmas brings. All of us are thankful for full bellies and full lives.

The heifer draws my attention as she again lies down. Now I see two small white hooves and the pink of a little nose. The heifer strains and the baby's head comes free. A couple more pushes from momma and a new wiggling bull calf lies on the straw—the miracle of birth again shared with this grateful farmer.

The mother diligently works to clean her calf. I attend to his navel and give him an over-all inspection. Suddenly I am aware of the stillness that surrounds me, as the other animals pay a silent tribute to the newborn son. All is quiet but for the licking of the mother cow. The placenta passes and the birth process is complete.

Encouraged by his mother's nuzzling the little fellow is soon up and having his first meal. His little tail wags in appreciation as his belly fills with warm milk. With the knowledge that the new baby works on both ends, I bid the animals goodnight.

On my way up the path toward our house the cold once again grips my body, yet warmth radiates from my smile. "It's a boy," I tell my family, feeling a little like an innkeeper in the crowded house. In a flurry of hastily thrown on coats and mittens our gleeful crew hastens out to see the proud mother and her Christmas gift—a now-sleeping baby in a bed of golden straw.

Ralph Rice's column "Reflections" appears regularly in Rural Heritage. This column appeared in the Holiday 2003 issue.

24 January 2004