Missy Axt can recall a time most indicative of life during the COVID-19 crisis.

The rancher/nurse from the McClusky area remembers when her husband Jeff checked cows during a night of freezing rain and had to bring a newborn calf indoors.

“He found a black-white face, and she was nearly dead,” Missy said. “We brought her in the house and worked on her for about three and a half hours until her breathing was more stabilized.”

Missy said she watched the calf until midnight, but woke up at 3 a.m. to see the calf perking up. Missy woke up again at 6:30 a.m. to see the calf fully standing in the middle of their mudroom. With that crisis out of the way, Jeff had to attend to more calves being born that morning, while Missy received a 7 a.m. medical emergency call from a rural basic care facility, where she works as the only nurse on staff.

“I told my mom, you get to take over as chaos coordinator,” Missy said.

Then, there’s meal preparation and distance learning for 7-year-old twin daughters, Anna and Sarah.

“It’s very overwhelming right now,” she said. “I feel like if I could multiply myself by five, I might have enough to do what I need to do. The house may not be spectacular all of the time, but I’ll take sleep over that. My mom comes over and helps me catch up with housework and laundry.”

On the ranch

The Axt family farms about 2,000 acres and has around 100 head of cattle. As ranchers, they know how little they’re getting for their cattle right now because of low prices. As consumers, they’re well aware of the rising cost of food in the grocery store, especially during the COVID 19 crisis when food is flying off the shelves, Axt said.

“We have a local store that was charging $8.99 a pound for hamburger,” she said. “We’re glad we have our freezer full of beef, but the prices at the sales barn aren’t reflecting costs at the grocery store.”

Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue announced in April that the United States Department of Agriculture would expand its investigation of market manipulation in the beef industry.

A Kansas State University project, the “Meat Demand Monitor,” reported year-to-year meat sales rose 91 percent in March, while live cattle prices have continued to drop since mid-February. Four companies control 80 percent of the beef processing marketplace.

“I think they’re taking advantage of the American people,” Missy said. “That’s always disturbing.”

Missy said it hasn’t helped that many ranchers entered the year short of feed because of lower-quality silage crops from early and heavy snow.

“A lot of our hay was poor quality because you couldn’t bale it dry,” she said. “You pray that what you have is usable and not moldy. We’re grinding a lot of our feed to supplement the best we can. Jeff grinds feed probably two to three times per week, which is all extra stuff on top of trying to get ready for spring’s work.”

At work

Missy is on call essentially all day, every day at her day job and keeps a cell phone with her for that purpose. She described the end of March and first two weeks of April as “a complete tornado.”

“I’m typically there every day of the work week,” she said. “I don’t have the option to do anything from home.”

All of the medication in the facility is administered under her license as a nurse, she said, meaning she needs to be there every day. Missy also said it’s been important to keep up with the regular notifications from the North Dakota Department of Health to update facilities on the latest recommendations and regulations.

“Sometimes those recommendations turn to regulations in a matter of two hours,” Missy said. “Masks were recommended, but not mandated. That flipped and now we mask anytime we’re within six feet (of residents). Supplies are tight, so they go into a bag and get washed every night.”

When she finishes a shift, she heads home. Her clothes immediately go to the laundry and she takes a shower. It’s a routine she’s been careful to keep anytime she goes out in public.

“I have to be careful because I don’t want to bring (the coronavirus) home to my family or take it to the residents,” Missy said. “I’m very conscious about hand sanitizer, and I keep Clorox wipes in my vehicle because of the measures I have to take. You just can’t afford to get sick when you have people relying on you.”

A family

The Axt family watches the news together, even daughters Sarah and Anna. The girls had grown accustomed to joining their mom at work after school and “seeing all of the grandmas and grandpas.”

“They know it affects mommy’s work directly,” Missy said. “They’re worried about their grandmas and grandpas a lot. They’re very close to one grandma, in particular. I set it up so they could talk to her through the window. That made everybody’s day.”

Still, the girls — who Missy called social butterflies — love school and miss their friends. Their class features nine children — all girls born within three months of each other.

“They went to daycare and preschool together — they’re so used to being with each other,” she said. “They’re social butterflies. They understand, but yet they’re frustrated.”

Frustration is a familiar feeling for many families right now, and the Axt family is no different.

“It’s definitely challenging — we’re trying,” she said. “I had a hard day a couple weeks ago, and Jeff realized how much I had on my shoulders. He’s been a really big help with the kids and stuff. We’re really going day by day at this point.”

– NDFU Editor Chris Aarhus