Friday, April 17, 2015

IT TAKES A HERD


Yesterday, our young cow Flory was standing down in the valley next to the pond. She was bellowing repeatedly with her cow-like bellow. It seemed that she had lost her calf.

She had this calf only two days before. It was her first one. On that day, I also heard her bellowing, but at that time she was farther in the valley and into the woods. I went to check on her, since it is not common for cows to stand and bellow for no reason.

When I got to her, she was standing in the middle of some small maples with newborn calf. The calf must have been born some hours earlier, since it was already dried and lying like a little furry ball in last autumn’s leaves. Flory was standing over her, looking quite pleased with herself. The bellowing had stopped and her only words now were softer moos.

I left the two of them. Flory seemed to be doing well with her new role as a mother, so I thought that I should let nature dictate how she should care for the calf. I went back up to the barn, where I had my own concerns that I was working on.

I do have a fear about my calves this year, however. The pond in the valley has very steep banks, banks down which a newborn little calf could easily roll. Just a couple weeks ago, another of my cows, Effie, had her calf right on the top of the bank.
 
I was also home when that one was born, so I went down and moved the newborn far  away from the water. However, an hour later when I went to check on the little one, he was again right next to the pond, this time on a narrow trail that is right on the water’s edge. Again I moved him. I ended up moving him three times before Effie was satisfied that where I put her little calf was better than where she put him.

But now, Flory was standing next to that same pond with a fearful (it seemed to me) tone to her bellow. I went to the pond, walked all around it and peered into the water, still icy cold in this early spring. I saw nothing, but I wondered if a calf, having fallen into the pond, would sink out of sight. Hoping that this was not the case, I next set off to the place where I had earlier in the day saw Flory emerge from the woods. Flory followed me.

Not only did Flory follow me, but our bull suddenly took an interest. He is named McTavish. He has wide horns that
emerge from a forehead of long hair that hangs over his eyes. He has a very fearsome look, but he is really not aggressive at all. He is, as are all my cows, Scottish Highland cattle, which are quite docile by nature.

McTavish is also the father of this new born calf. In the cattle industry, they do not say “father,” but rather that the calf was “sired” by McTavish. But because of this interest that he showed in the lost calf, I think that perhaps father might be a better term in this case.

Not only did McTavish begin to follow me into the woods, but also Flory’s own mother, the grandmother of the newborn. This cow, as it happened to be, was the same Effie with whom I earlier had a discussion about leaving her calf so close to water’s edge. Effie also was the mother of Flory, who had given birth to her two years earlier near the same spot where Flory had her first calf. Flory had also been Effie’s firstborn.

So we all went down into the woods. I, followed by Flory, then McTavish and then Effie. The rest of the cows did not
follow, but it was not that they were not interested. They stood at the crest of the hill watching us disappear into the woods. Effie’s calf was also up on the hill watching with the rest of the herd. I suppose Effie had left them in charge.

I did not have any idea where in the woods I should search for the calf, but the ground is still muddy in this early spring, and I looked for fresh hoof prints. I don’t know if I saw the right prints, but it turns out that I was successful in approaching the general area where Flory had left her calf, because when I was about fifty yards away from where the calf lie, Effie seemed to remember the place. She ran ahead of me, followed by McTavish, and then by Effie.

I watched as the two-day old calf rose to his feet when his mother came near, and immediately start sucking on Flory’s
full udder. I stayed for a couple of minutes, then headed back up the hill to the barn. I was followed by McTavish and then by Effie. Flory’s bellowing had stopped. She now just gave contented moos as she stayed in the woods nursing her firstborn.

You have heard it said that to raise a child it takes a village? Well, to raise a calf it takes a herd.

Oh... and a farmer.

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