Mary Kay Monger backed up the four-wheeler, preparing to gain speed to splash through deep tractor grooves full of springtime slop.
She'd gotten the vehicle stuck in the mud a couple of days before and wasn't interested in trying to heave it out again. Mary Kay accelerated. The machine ground through the gate, but the weight of an extra person left the tires spinning in the pasture's muck. Her husband, Larry, jammed the all-terrain vehicle out of its quagmire.
It's calving season across Routt County, and Larry and Mary Kay are enjoying the work at High Tide Ranch.
"You tell the people in town when they talk about mud season, they ain't seen nothing yet," Larry said.
It's true: The black mud, manure and hay mix is thick as wet concrete at their ranch on Routt County Road 44 west of Steamboat Springs. The couple had 33 new calves hobbling around as of Thursday morning. Changing weather has thrown a few curves, however, and they've lost three calves so far.
Frosty weather April 4 claimed one of the tiny victims.
"It was cold and windy, and it chilled (the calf) so fast, it couldn't get dry," Larry said. "It didn't make it."
The Mongers have had to take a few calves into the house to warm them up.
"It starts in the kitchen and goes to the porch and then here," Mary Kay said, gesturing around the barn.
The weather has been tough all around, said CJ Mucklow, Routt County extension agent. The first calf at his ranch was born Thursday.
"We calf in April typically because we're under the assumption, which is wrong half the time, that weather's better in April than it is in February," Mucklow said.
He noted that the harsh weather early this month affected more than just the Mongers.
"It's not uncommon for it to snow in May," Mucklow said Thursday. "Ranches are prepared for this stuff. Last week was really brutal because it was cold - not only wet, it was cold."
The weather was fine for calving Thursday. A light snow fell, but the air wasn't cold. Mary Kay drove the four-wheeler, wearing a pink John Deere ball cap. Larry walked, wearing mud boots and a dusty cowboy hat.
The Mongers lost one of their other calves because it was a twin and they didn't know, so it died before they found it. They've had a couple of sets of twins already.
"Different producers I've talked to, there seems to be quite a few this year," Mary Kay said. "So, I don't know what's going on."
Another of the Mongers' calves was rejected by its mother, who then killed it. They plan to get rid of the cow by summer.
By the Mongers' count, they'll have about 160 calves by summer. Cows carry their calves for nine months. Once they're born, the calves are at risk from the cold, coyotes and - some ranchers say - bald eagles. Mary Kay doesn't quite buy that, however.
The cows typically protect their young from coyotes, but the Mongers also have to keep an eye out. Sometimes a pregnant cow claims a calf for its own and then won't try to give birth, Mary Kay said. She and Larry watched as a couple of black cows tried to mother the same calf Thursday, licking the animal as it stood hesitantly between them.
"I'll have to separate them," Mary Kay said.
Larry led the calf toward the barn, and the real and wannabe mothers followed.
"We'll jail the mother and baby so the other cow will get on the business of having her own," Mary Kay said.
Larry penned the animals, and the couple rode the ATV back to the house across the street, making it through the sucking mud this time. Although calving can be a cold, wet, muddy process, both beamed while describing the season. Having all those new, young calves around makes it a special time, Larry said.
"It's the rewarding time for us is what it is," Mary Kay Monger said. "It's like opening Christmas presents."