I t is the bad dream of the rancher's wife during calving season.?Not as bad as a blizzard or machinery wreck but worse than having to go to Kingfisher for parts.

Hubby's been gone overnight so Shirla saddles up to go check the new calves in the calving lot. It's cold enough to freeze the muddy spots but it's a sunny morning. She spots a heifer on her side, her abdomen is tight and she's straining. Dismounting, Shirla approaches the beast for a closer look. No feet sticking out.

A call on her cell phone to father-in-law down the road proves fruitless, no one answers. So back to the house she rides to get her teenage daughter.

"I'm gonna need yer help," Mom says.

"Ma-Um," whines the daughter in two syllables, "I've just done my hair, I've got on my school clothes!"

"Pull on yer coveralls, grab some boots, I can't do it alone!"

Ten minutes later the two of them return to the pen. Shirla is carrying a length of rope and some O.B. chains. The cow is in even more trouble, breathing in gasps, grossly distended abdomen, yet still no sign of the calf.

They put a loop around the cow's hind legs. Shirla instructs her daughter, "I'll hold the rope, you stick your hand in there and find the calf -- your hands are smaller!"

"No way!" said daughter in an exaggerated tone, as if she'd been asked to jump in a barrel of soft-boiled eggs or wear something decent. "I've just done my nails!"

"There's no time to lose!" said Shirla, handing the rope to her daughter. Shirla got her arm inside the cow past her wrist and could feel nothing.

"Are you sure you're in the right hole?" asked the daughter.

"Of course!" she said, shoving on in up to the elbow.

The cow was pushing back, grunting and struggling to get upright.?

"Pull on that rope!" Shirla shouted and forced her arm in up to the shoulder. "It's so tight," she said, "but I still can't find the calf!"

"That might be him up there by her head," said a voice she recognized as her father-in-law's.

"What?" asked Shirla, looking up to see a calf curled like a cat contentedly sleeping 10 feet away. She looked down at her arm and at the cow, who for one brief moment raised her head high enough to look back at her torturer.

"Well," she stammered, "what's the matter?"

"Bloat," he answered, "I'll go get the hose."

Baxter Black, author, cowboy poet and former large animal veterinarian, lives in Benson, Ariz.

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