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Monday, April 4, 2016

Sometimes the farmers fail

It started out as a fairly large challenge – when it was all said and done it was a weekend-long event, moving calf #5 and her mom into the barn.
The Farmer had morphed into real estate agent mode Saturday morning and gone off to Carleton Place to host an open house. I was left with the house to myself and I planned to turn on the music and do some creating in the kitchen – something I rarely have time for. Also, the Farmer cannot resist peeking over my shoulder and adding his own comments and ingredients on the rare times that he finds me in ‘his kitchen.’ I set out the deli meats, condiments, buns and toppings and got ready to make mini sandwiches for my daughter’s “Mad Hatter’s Tea Party” and then I got distracted. I found some leftovers and decided it would be a nice treat for the sheepdog. So I pulled on a toque, my boots and a farm coat and headed outside.
I realized I was overdressed within about ten minutes. Here’s what happened. I circled the barnyard and feeders, doing the daily headcount of the herd. Twelve cows, one bull, and four calves. Wait a minute. Make that five. A brand-new chocolate brown calf lay curled under her mother’s nose. She was shivering in that stupid polar vortex wind.
This is where, if the Farmer were home, we would put a halter around the calf and hop-step her into the barn, her mother on her trail. We like to keep them inside for the first week or so, until we are sure the calf is suckling well and gaining strength. But the Farmer wasn’t home. And for some reason I got it in my head to attempt a different mode of calf transport. I lined the gardening wheelbarrow with an old horse blanket, and made my way over tractor ruts and mud to the calf. I lifted her up – she was extremely heavy – and my knees buckled as I placed her in the wheelbarrow. She elegantly curled her legs beneath her and snuggled into the warm cloth. And that is as far as we got. The moment I tried to move the wheelbarrow, the wheel bent sideways and snapped off the bolt. Fantastic.
I realized I didn’t have the strength to hop-step the calf to the barn by myself. We were way over on the opposite side of the barn, through the gate and into the next field. It was too far. So I put the calf back down on the grass, tucked in out of the wind at the foot of a large tree. Mama snorted at me and demanded I get out of her way. I trudged back to the house, a failed farmwife.
When the Farmer returned, I informed him of our predicament. He headed out to the shed and hitched the trailer on the back of the ATV. I grabbed the halter and hopped up for the ride. When we reached mom and babe, it was fairly easy to get the calf up onto the trailer and into my lap. But the mom was so stressed she lost the plot. She kept circling the area where she had given birth, trying to find her calf. She heard his cry in answer to hers, and followed us for a moment, but it’s like she just didn’t see and recognize him if he was out of scent range. She took off and headed down the field toward the bush.
“Where the heck is she going??” I asked. The Farmer drove the ATV to the shed and let us out. He tied the calf like bait to the open shed door. Then he tried to chase the mama cow with the ATV. She kept circling the birthing spot, and head butting any other cow who tried to investigate. She must have been exhausted.
When we realized our plan was a failure, we decided to put the calf right back where we started. Where she had started. Her mom came bounding over, bawling for her calf. We left them to bond, and a few hours later the calf was happily feeding under her mom, pressed up against her warm side.
The next morning we checked the new family and discovered the mom had tucked the calf into the farthest corner of the barn, out of the wind, all by herself.  Sometimes you just have to trust the animals with the strongest instincts. They know what they are doing. Besides, this calf-hauling stuff is wearing me out.

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