Browsed by
Month: April 2016

Signs of Life

Signs of Life

First of all thank you to everyone who said such nice things to us after I wrote about Morag.  In person, on facebook, in the comments section we were met with kindness and understanding.  Thank you.  

Well last week was a bit of a funny one.  We are used to death in some ways on the farm, we are used to being in control of the lives of animals and part of that is deciding when the end should come.  But when a death is sudden and unexpected it feels very different, especially when we lost a favourite girl.  But life goes on, whizzing along whether you like it or not.  In my experience its best to grab onto it and hold on tight, joy is always worth having.

All around us now are the signs of new life, there will be more as the spring progresses with new chicks arriving this week and more gardening planned too.  The grass is greening, trees are budding, herbs are coming back to life and there are babies everywhere.

DSC_0016 DSC_0019 DSC_0029 DSC_0032

The pastures are greening up as the morass of mud slowly recedes, giving hope to the possibility of being able to walk across a field without being ankle deep in mud.  I mean really, just imagine. We have plans afoot for new infrastructure on the farm this year that will help us combat the spring mud season (and the winter snow season) but right now we are grateful for being able to walk across the cow field without actually getting stuck.

DSC_0038 DSC_0042 DSC_0044 DSC_0045

Planting from years past and natures own goodness is all starting to come into leaf, making my thoughts drift forward to warmer days of harvesting and storing.  Right now the wind still holds a pinch of winter, but we’ve had some tasters of jacket free days…dare I even dream of sandals?

DSC_0047 DSC_0051 DSC_0052

Inside the seed trays are simply full of leaf and life, though the prospect of having to pot on around 250 tomato plants caused me to declare this week a Farm Week, a week where we focus on the tasks that really need to happen now but can’t be packed into an already packed weekend.  What with classes, friends, chores, chicken moving, calf feeding….the hours just seem to run away with us.  So this week I’m enslaving my children, giving my children an invaluable hands on educational experience,  and really trying to catch the tail of spring as she whizzes past us, greening everything in sight.

But really the main preoccupation this week has been a beautiful baby calf, one week old yesterday, who’s beauty just astounds us.  There really is something utterly magical about a newborn anything, they hold such perfection and such promise; she is certainly no different and we admire her to anyone who’ll listen.  Frankly if they’re not listening we’ll still go on about her.

DSC_0036

Every six hours she’s fed by hand, stroked and admired, cuddled and fussed.  Stephen has robbed himself of sleep to keep her on the perfect schedule, plodding out there as the moon rises and shortly after as the sun chases her to the horizon.  Wee Morag stumbles around like a drunken Bambi, making you laugh as she tries to head butt you in the face for more milk while the bottle is held an inch from her mouth.  There really is nothing so bonkers as a cow’s face looming at you.  I’m learning to wear a second layer when it’s my turn because between frothy milk mouth and shiny cow bogeys, clothing doesn’t stand much of a chance.  She’s learning a little about the world and meeting the other cows from the safety of a leash so that she can’t be accidentally stood on.  She’s received some licks from her sister and they’ve all had a good sniff.  I think they’ll all get along very well.

But for now she still occupies the deluxe suite, the barn set aside just for her with a corral that she can boing around in without risk of harm.  The boys go down every day and spend time with her, enjoying her enjoyment of strokes and scratches and hugs.  We can’t replace her lovely Mama, the devoted attention she would have received as they roamed together each day.  But we can give it all we’ve got and hope it’s enough.

So far, she’s doing wonderfully.  She is wonderful.

Morag, the cow who lost her moo.

Morag, the cow who lost her moo.

12802777_445031102353284_7391342229119067523_n 12799216_445031072353287_3646384853947982442_n

3 years ago, when I was in the UK visiting my Dad with the boys, I got a message from Stephen saying “I just bought a cow!”.  My response was something supportive like “You bought a what?!” until I eventually established that no he wasn’t kidding and yes he’d bought a cow.  A real one.  Granted the messages had been preceded by ones like “I’m at an auction!” and “They have cows here!” so I really should have seen it coming.  When I told my Dad and he expressed surprise I said “Are you really surprised?  Doesn’t this seem exactly like the kind of thing we do?”.  He conceded this was the case.

I’ll admit to being unimpressed by Stephen’s mystery purchase and when he sent me a picture of a scraggly, skinny and frankly hacked off looking cow my spirits didn’t lift massively.  It was when he told me that she was a bit underweight, a bit unloved and pregnant that the tide started to turn for me.  I have a bit of a thing for bringing neglected things back to life (hence the purchase of 100 acres of derelict land) and she was just that; neglected, unwanted and now all ours.

A couple of weeks later our second hand cow calved out a still born calf, a truly sad outcome that hit us quite hard.  She was boarding with our kind neighbour who looked after her perfectly, but he told us that with her being underweight and a bit neglected she was at a higher risk of losing her calf.  On most farms that would have been the end for her, she wasn’t calving healthy calves so the road would have firmly ended.  But not with us.  That summer she ran with our neighbour’s bull and the following spring she calved out a beautiful bull calf for us.  Quietly and without fuss she proved her Mama skills.

Devoted Mama that she was we bred her again and last spring she gave us Daisy, a beautiful Angus/Simmental cross, born in the pasture on a warm day in May.  Again she showed what a devoted mother she was and raised up a strong and healthy girl.  Our herd was growing and Morag was its centre, the others followed her lead and were kept in line by her firm but fair direction.  She was the Queen Cow and, frankly, she was our favourite.  Extra oats for Morag all winter?  No problem.  Someone wants their head scratched?  Morag is first in line.  She let us fuss her, for as long as she wanted and no longer, and had a judgmental stare a 17th century nun would have been proud of.  We adored her.

 

11262399_362463260610069_42099861638689670_n

When Morag first came to live with us we noticed that she never mooed.  Now contented cows don’t have that much to moo about, but our other cow would occasionally let out a moo or two, maybe of greeting, maybe to alert us to the fact that a few more oats would be quite welcome thank you.  But Morag never made a sound.  Sometimes a raspy cough but that is it.  But when her first calf came along that changed, a Mama needs to be able to call to her baby and that’s what she tried to do.  At first her moo was harsh, like a voice that has gone unused for a really long time; but one day, when her little guy had strayed just that bit too far she let out a true Mama bellow.  After that she could moo like a champ, like a lot of us she found her voice when she was a Mum.

Last summer we bred our top girl up to some primo Angus love juice.  We were hoping for a lovely heifer to finally succeed her mother to the crown, years down the line we’d have Morag’s daughter to continue her proud heritage.  She duly fell pregnant on the first try and munched her way healthily through summer, fall and winter emerging wide and very, very pregnant when spring finally dawned.  With just two weeks to go we were excited about her calving out and enjoying the warmer weather that had finally arrived.

On Saturday morning we went out to find her ‘cast’, stuck on her side and unable to get up.  We called our neighbour and then the vet to check the calf and help us get her up.  We determined that she couldn’t stand, that her hip was either dislocated or broken, but either way things weren’t good.  We managed, after much work and a very long day, to get her in a comfy warm spot where she could eat and drink and be warmed by the sun.  The vet induced the calf as she was less that two weeks before her due date and we watched and waited.  Stephen didn’t sleep that night, going out every hour to check that she hadn’t rolled back onto her side and managing to get her back over when she did.  It was a real act of devotion on his part.

The next day, the hottest of the year, we waited and watched again.  We hoped she would calve out naturally and perhaps the reduced load on her body would free her hip up to get back into place.  We prepared for the worst and hoped for the best.  As her labour progressed we had great hope, she’d birthed her last two with relative ease and calm; but time dragged on and even our neighbour began to be concerned.  We called the vet again, hoping he could help to pull the calf or give her a jab to help strengthen her contractions.  She was clearly worn out and the calf was at grave risk.

Within moments the vet pronounced that we had two choices, lose Morag or lose them both.  Her pelvis had shattered as a result of what can only be described as a freak accident, and possibly compounded by her not being a young cow (we think somewhere between 11 and 16 at the outside), there was no possibility of recovery.  We agreed to a c-section to bring out her calf and then he would end her life as quickly as possible.

I sat by her head as the vet worked, I stroked her neck and told her how brave she was.  I promised that we would look after her baby for her, I told her what a good girl she was.  Stephen helped to pull the calf out and clear her of mucus while I tried to keep Morag calm.  She was not in pain but she was scared, I tried to help her feel better.  I remembered how I had felt when my first boy came into the world via c-section; I cried while I did it and for a while after too.  She saw her little baby girl come into the world, the girl we had so hoped for, but had never imagined she would be born like this.  Born to trade places with her own Mama within moments.  And then Morag was gone.

We tended to calf in the sunshine, rubbing her with towels and cuddling her.  We sat with Morag while our neighbour dug a place for her in our woods, a peaceful spot under a break in the trees.  The vet went off to get colostrum from a nearby dairy for us and so we sat together with our new girl and our old girl.  I couldn’t seem to stop crying and even Stephen, my tough northern chap, had a suspiciously husky tone to his voice.  It had all been so quick, so sudden and so terribly, terribly sad.

At that moment our sow, basking blissfully in the sun a few feet away, broke wind in a long and pleasingly full bodied parp.  It went on for some time and seemed to make her even more satisfied.  We turned and looked at her, laughing at the timing and watched her piglets bouncing around her, enjoying the sun alongside their Mummy.  We laughed because it was funny and because, as the saying goes, if you don’t laugh you’ll cry.

Morag has stayed on the farm, she’ll always be here with us.  We didn’t want her life to end this way but I’m glad her final years were spent as Queen of the Herd, pampered, adored, praised and loved.  Her baby girl will grow up to be the rightful heiress to her kingdom I’m sure, we are already devoted to her, feeding, stroking, fussing and spoiling her.  We decided to call her Wee Morag Silver Linings, because she is the gift her Mama gave us.

I told my neighbour, a kind but laconic fellow, a man of few words to say the least, that I could see she would be spoiled rotten in no time at all.

“Well,” he replied “Better spoiled than not I’d say.”

I agree.

Spring Starts

Spring Starts

Today I have actually reached the point of feeling that I can actually use the word ‘spring’ officially without a) crying at the same time b) using some kind of prefix like “what the $&@#$ is up with….” and c) expecting there to be some kind of weather related retribution that will bring at least 10 cms of snow in the next 24 hours.  It’s been that kind of spring.

A few times in the last couple of months I have wandered outside, my face turned up to the sky and basked in the warm spring-like sunshine and thought to myself ‘this is it’.  Of course the next day my face was firmly inside because I didn’t want a foot of snow all over it.  Seriously.  There was a lot of snow this spring.  A lot.  Enough to bury my soul in.  Science fact.

But the weather forecast is finally releasing us from our wintery gloom and predicting 20 degrees on the weekend.  20 degrees!  20!!!  Degrees!!!!  Sorry I know that is an irrational amount of exclamation marks but holy cow, I’m ready for spring.  I know I say that every spring and I mean it every spring but this year I really, really mean it.  A lot.

DSC_0003DSC_0007

Despite the mildness of this winter past, especially when compared with the face peeling cold of the previous two winters, it has still felt long and dreary and long.  Did I say long?  Because it felt long.  And, as it does every year, my foolish British soul peeks it’s head from behind it’s metaphorical spiritual duvet sometime in March and starts saying annoying things like “Isn’t it time for the children to be outside yet?”  And I, of course, reply “Shut up soul!  You do this every year!  It’s going to suck for at least another 6 weeks and look now it’s snowing again.”  Usually I weep at that point, or face plant into a cake.  Or both if I’m honest; this year was no different.

But some desperate optimism about the weather must have caught on because Stephen and I spent some time on the weekend starting seeds, little brown packages of hope that they are; plopping them into warm, moist soil and nurturing them, just as they will sustain us through the coming months.  Over the last few days we’ve watched and marvelled as the first sparks of life emerge in plastic trays in the dining room of our house.  I love how life works that way, miraculous and utterly mundane.

DSC_0006 DSC_0004

We’ve had increasingly warm days this week, slightly stymied by my littlest bean coming down with a yucky tummy bug, but we are all emerging into the sunlight a little mystified and a lot happier.  There have been moments where the house has fallen silent as the boys run off outside for a bit (Sometimes with some encouragement from Mummy.  Or a lot of encouragement.  Some people would use the word threats but it’s such an ugly term.)  I’ve looked around a little, momentarily unoccupied and been a little unsure what to do.  We are coming into a new season not just of the year but of life, but that’s a post for another day and thoughts for another hour.

So as I peek underneath the condensation clouded lids of my seeds trays and as I wander, oh so casually, out to the polytunnel so recently cleared out by the lovely men in my life, my inner eye is beginning to dream of abundance.  Though there are only specks here and there and the memory of snow is a starkly recent one, my dreaming life is painted with green.  Green and the scent of honey on the air.