Campaign diary: A push, a pull… and the first calf of spring | Farm animals


IIt’s calving season. By my estimation, having tracked her cycle since she ran with the bull last summer, this beast is late. It’s not unusual, but she’s a heifer – a first-time mother – so I’ve been following closely.

She had behaved normally at feeding, giving no reason to suspect a change, but later, as I was walking through the woods with the dogs, I saw her downstairs. Out of habit, I inspect. She looks uncomfortable, her breathing shallow and rapid, though she’s been doing it intermittently for days.

As I watch, there is a sudden expulsion of liquid at my feet. She sits up abruptly, just as surprised as me, and sniffs the ground. Then she makes the most tender of sounds, instinctively communicating with her unborn calf.

There is a primal power in this moment when a life is about to come alive, but also in this case. The mother of this heifer was our original matriarch, a cow we relied on. In 2019, she was condemned to tuberculosis along with almost half of our little herd. We wondered if the farm could continue after such a great loss, but the orphaned calf – its only surviving offspring – felt reason enough to try.

The mother of the new calf. Photography: Sarah Laughton

Progress is constant. She alternates between lying down and standing up. When she comes down, I make sure the calf presents correctly – two white hooves, pointing down; in her I feel a nose. But stable becomes slow, it loses momentum. At the next wave of contractions, I will help. As we both strain – her pushing, me pulling – we release him little by little until the calf fully emerges, a warm, slippery mass.

He is momentarily lifeless, his tongue bluish and swollen. I straighten him up and squeeze my hand over his nostrils to clear the airways. She licks, I rub, we both urge encouragement. Then he blinks and shakes his head slightly. He’s alive – and besides, he’s a heifer.

Opinions are mixed on the naming of cattle, but sometimes the case is clear. Given its provenance and its future potential, we call this new calf Faith.


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