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Thursday, May 7, 2009

In Which Ginger Nearly Becomes a Beef-Kabob

It has been a long winter that seemed even longer because our hay was so terrible. Every day now, the sheep and cows go out on the pasture and greedily mow down any fresh new blades of grass that emerge from the hardened soil.
The horses have much fussier stomachs, and their respiratory systems cannot handle the dust and mold on last year’s rainy season hay, so we feed them from the prized storage of two-year-old hay at the back of the barn.
The sheep and cows know about this hay: they can smell its greenness through the barn walls. When the Farmer opens the doors to that storage, he has a very limited amount of undisturbed time before he has to deal with marauding farm animals rushing between him and the bales.
Last week, our pregnant cow Ginger decided she couldn’t stand it anymore; she had to satisfy her craving for the forbidden hay. As soon as the Farmer moved the tractor out of her way, she seized her opportunity and waddled into the small storage room. When the tractor returned a few minutes later, Ginger knew the gig was up and she would have to get out of the way. The massive cow pulled a quick deke to the left, fooling the Farmer. He quickly steered over to the right, just as Ginger changed direction.
The cow was pinned to the wall on the end of the tractor fork.
“I feel awful,” the Farmer emailed me later that morning. “I accidentally speared Ginger with the tractor.”
I could barely concentrate on work for the rest of the day. The Farmer assured me that he hadn’t punctured the pregnant cow’s belly: he had only grazed it. But she was hurt, and in a bit of shock.
I left work a few minutes early and came home to find the wounded mother-to-be standing in a far corner of the barnyard by herself. Never one to welcome human touch, she took a few steps farther into the corner when I approached her.
“Ginger-cow, poor girl. Let me see your tummy,” I coaxed her. She stood still and let me move in closer. She stared at me as I bent over and examined the coin-sized patch of ruffled hair on her side.
I brought her one of her favourite treats: a bucket of molasses laced sweet feed. She just sniffed at it and turned her nose away.
I stared at her bulging belly and willed the calf inside her to start moving. I thought I saw a slight ripple of movement under her thick flesh, but I couldn’t be sure.
It didn’t take long for one of the sheep to smell the sweet feed. Soon there were about forty ewes swarming the bucket under Ginger’s nose.
The cow looked at me as if to say, “Thanks. Now I have to go and find another quiet corner. Can’t you just leave me be?” Her chocolate-brown eyes, always full of expression, looked weary and sad. She chewed her cud and turned to leave.
I went back to the house then, but returned to check on her later in the evening. After we put the horses in for the night, I saw that Ginger was standing beside the hay wagon, nibbling on silage and commiserating with Betty. I decided that if she was eating, she must be feeling better.
I stared at her belly again and suddenly I saw something move, forming a definite right angle protruding from the side of her bulk. Thank goodness. The calf was still active.
According to the farm journal, Betty and Ginger have another couple of months to wait until they are mothers again.
For the remainder of their gestation, we will have to ensure that the girls do not find themselves in any more tight places. They don’t seem to realize just how wide they have grown.
They were bred artificially last September with a specimen from a black Angus named “Ribeye”. He is reported to produce easy-birthing calves that grow quickly.
We are hoping that they are black and shiny. And I’m secretly hoping that they are both girls, so that we don’t have to say goodbye to them anytime soon.

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