You never know what is going to happen during a winter season. You prepare for the worst and hope for the best. You try to maintain tractors and feeding equipment to prevent major breakdowns. You provide the best care, feed and shelter for the animals. You plan ahead. Every April and May, we try to avoid breeding heifers to calve the following winter. Sometimes things do not line up right, and we have a few that decide they want some extra attention. We do not like calving heifers in the winter because swollen, leaking teats lead to frozen teats and a short production life span for the heifer not to mention the stress on her calf. We will calve some cows during these months because it works for us with housing. Regardless, calves born during these months end up with some very unique life stories and names.
    We keep a close eye on all our expecting mothers-to-be. Mark and Austin have developed an eye to know when a calf will arrive. There are the obvious signs of bagging up, restless, off by herself and a tail that just will not go down. With a quick feel just below her tail head, as she slips past them, they feel the muscles loosen and relax for the impending calf. They can generally guess within a couple of hours. Then there are those who blow the whole theory out of the water and you end up with a winter surprise.
    One very cold sub-zero January morning, Mark came to the house carrying a black block of ice. I grabbed old towels and started rubbing her down, trying to keep her blood circulating. The kids grabbed my blow dryer to help warm her up. (I think my blow dryer has been used on more calves and cows toplines than my own hair.) Once we warmed her up, she could start to prance around the back porch. We needed to come up with a great name. Since she had a chilly start to life, we named her Chilly. We could spot her anywhere in the lot. While we were able to warm her up, we were not able to save all of her ears. I do not even know if she had enough nubbins left to put a tag in. Luckily ears do not contribute to classification scores as she went on to be EX-93 2-E.
    Chilly went on to have daughters named Icicle and Freezee. Her most notable calf came during a weather event, as well. Chilly decided to have a calf outside during an overnight rainstorm. The next morning, we discovered a very wet black calf. She had a single drop of white on her face, hence the name Raindrop. She went on to have Dewdrop and Mist.
    Last month, when we were testing cows, the DHIA tester was talking about a farmer who found a calf in his shed overnight. The calf was not moving, and he thought it was dead. A while later, the son noticed the calf moved and realized it was still alive. They do not know how but it was. They brought her to the milkhouse and hosed her down with warm water to thaw her out. She became a milking cow in their herd known as Survivor. Mark said they had a similar calf born on the farm when he was a young kid. They literally had to chip her of out an ice block from the ground. She survived, and they named her Iceberg. I do not know if she had a calf named Lettuce or not. It was before my time on the farm.
    A nice winter surprise we get this year is an extra day. An extra day of milk. An extra day to have some fun. There is a myth that we are too busy. We just do not have the time. We all have the same 24 hours. It is how you use those hours. We make time for the things that are important to us. With our extra 24 hours, we are heading north for a family friend’s wedding, weather permitting. What will your winter surprise be with your extra day? Have fun.
    Natalie, Mark and his brother Al, farm together near Rice, Minn. They milk 100 registered Holsteins under the RALMA prefix. Their four children are grown up and all involved in agriculture with hopes of someone returning to the farm. For questions or comments, please e-mail Natalie at mnschmitt@jetup.net.