I actually don’t know if I have it in me to properly describe the last few days. It might take me a bit of time to break it all up into it’s component parts and try to explain each piece in a sensible way. I’ll certainly try as I feel like I’ve learned more than my brain can handle within a very short space of time so perhaps writing it down will make sense of it all!
But here is the main story, the bit I’ll focus on for now. Our cow Wander (we bought her in the spring and she’s been with us since the summer) was inseminated via AI in the early part of the year by her previous owners. Somewhere along the line we seem to have got the dates mixed up because we were under the impression that her calf was due in November. We still had a goodly amount of time to finish the second barn/dairy, learn the signs of birth and what we’d need to do as well as prepare ourselves for the additional chore of milking each day.
The thing is even we could see that she wasn’t far off calving out. Our neighbour said she wasn’t far off too so we thought we’d get things moving quickly in case the calf came this month not next. Stephen allocated thanksgiving weekend for barn prep and we got on with life. On Wednesday when I was hanging out with the cows I noticed a teeny discharge from Wander’s rear end, I wondered if it was relevant to something but thought to myself “I don’t know anything about cows” so sort of pushed it to the back of my mind. That is what we in the farming trade call ‘an error’. To be fair to me she was normal in all other ways so we went merrily along with our day.
On Thursday I was keeping an eye open for Wander, I saw her at the hay so when Stephen asked me at about 11am if I’d seen her I replied a confident ‘yes’. He said he felt a bit worried about her for some reason but he was working and I was trying to finish up school before I had to rush out on errands so again my alarm bells were muffled and unanswered.
On my way home from my errands Stephen called me to tell me to get home “right now!” I practically shrieked “what’s wrong?!” down the phone before he told me “Wander had her calf!”. Operating within legal speed limits (of course) I none the less made it home in record time. Within minutes I had my boots on and was dragging Stephen to the far part of the pasture to check out, with my own eyes, if she had indeed managed to calve without either my help or my knowledge. And there she was, standing in the shelter of the tree hedge with her little boy at her feet. A clever Mama and a beautiful calf.
I’d had the good sense to drop into our neighbour on the way home and he’d swung by with a vit E injection and a bit of advice about getting them started. We quickly prepared the barn for them to reside in there overnight and by the time everyone was settled it was dark and we were all pretty exhausted. It was the first of several long, tiring, emotionally draining and at the same time wonderful days to come.
On Friday we became concerned that the little chap wasn’t nursing, we hadn’t spotted him doing so and though he seemed happy enough we were worried about messing up this crucial time. Calves need lots of colostrum to keep them healthy and it is only available for a short while so they need to get stuck in. I have to admit to being very panicky as, no matter what we tried, we couldn’t get the little chap to nurse for even a second. I was a worried farm girl indeed.
Luckily I found a chap on permies.com who runs a dairy of jerseys and knows a thing or 20 about cows. He kindly took the time to help me out and gave me some great advice about the signs a calf is nursing. We saw that he probably was and through continued detective work on my part (I hid in a bush) I finally witnessed the little chap nursing away. A big sigh of relief.
Over the last couple of days (while Stephen has existed only in the field while he builds the second barn and milking area) we’ve watched the little chap really find his feet. He is astonishingly cute, like a baby fawn, I can see why his Mama loves him so. They are rarely apart and seem to have found their rhythm together, even including Aunty Morag in their family of three.
I will describe our adventures in milking in another post (there is more to be said on that indeed!) when I’ve had a bit more experience but suffice to say we’ve tasted the nectar and it is good! It is hard to describe the awe and wonder and well, terror, I feel when I contemplate the significance of all of this. We now have the potential to be fully self sufficient in dairy, with spare to help feed the other animals on the farm. The gorgeous little chap gambolling around our field will grow to a full sized animal that will in turn feed our family when the time comes. Even their manure gives us the chance to renew our land and turn exhausted soil into the most productive kind of earth we could imagine.
As I said at the beginning I hardly have the words for the last few days, the highs and lows, the worry and stress, the joy and success. Over time I know it will all become part of what we call ‘normal’ but for now it’s all so new, it feels like we are starting the farm all over again! But for now, please join me in welcoming the first Fernwood Farm baby, I hope he will be the first of many, many more.