Within the space of a couple of days, two of the herd, at the opposite end of the age spectrum, have calved.
Both needed skilled intervention on John’s part to bring their progeny into the world.
The first, a heifer, calved very fortuitously in front of a young vet hopeful.
Peter, a sixth former, was spending the day with us to gain some observations on the day to day life of a mixed farm. He had already been gaining experience in a vet’s surgery and a day with us was a useful extra.
Accompanying John to the foldyard, he was greeted by the indignant bawling of a calf that had not quite managed to achieve the full birthing process.
It’s Mum, a heifer, had pushed the calf’s front feet and head out, but its shoulders were firmly stuck. She had lain down in the straw and the calf was not impressed. “The heifer was still pushing but was getting nowhere,” John said, “So I went for the calving ropes to give her a hand.” With Peter’s assistance he tied the ropes round the calves’ front feet and pulled. Like a cork out of a bottle the calf arrived properly into this world.
Peter was thrilled. This was proper farming, even though he plans a future in a far more profitable small animal practice.
The next day the oldest cow in the herd stepped into the limelight. She is 15 years old and has already had ten calves. Number eleven was imminent. Now a fifteen year old cow is the human equivalent of seventy years old. Not many ladies would be planning extra additions to the family at that age, even if it were possible.
John knew she was close to calving as she had bagged up (her udder was distended), flattened off (the muscles round the top of her tail had flattened) and looked fed up.
Wouldn’t you? I mean at seventy years old to be facing the prospect of rearing yet another young’un. And that after being pursued round the field nine months ago by a randy young bull when all you fancied was a quiet nibble on some lush grass. Plus you were already feeding number ten offspring. All too much.
So when John walked the cow into the cattle crush and gave her a helping hand, or rather used a helping calving aid to deliver her latest baby, she submitted with grace.
Minutes later number eleven arrived and the cow was once more committed to rearing yet another calf.
It is not often that we still have a cow of that age in the herd, although I can testify to the fact that our girls are very well looked after. But as John’s father once told me when I naively asked if any of the cows in the herd died of old age……”Not if I can help it. It’s market, not a retirement home for old cows round here I’m afraid.”