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The First Warm Day

The First Warm Day

On what felt like the first warm day of the year, our cow Daisy birthed out a beautiful heifer in the afternoon sunshine.  I know it wasn’t actually the first warm day of the year, but it was the day that seemed to herald a run of warm days, the beginning of the end of winter.  In fact, exactly one week prior, an ice storm had smacked the province around quite heartily and we had spent the day huddled without power and grateful for the last of our wood stores.

This was Daisy’s first calf, but we knew she would be wonderful.  She’s adopted any and every calf we’ve had on the farm and she has lived up to all of our expectations of her as a mother.  She was protective, without being skittish, and we delighted in hearing her Mama moos as she began to graze in her home pasture on the first green tips of spring/summer grass.

The little one has fast become a favourite of the herd.  She is constantly nuzzled, bumped and watched by one or other of her relatives and intersperses running around wildly with happy napping in the growing pasture.  It has to be said that there is little more pleasing to a farmer than to see a healthy animal born and raised right on your own farm.  It gives a sense of continuity and of meaning that is easy to forget in the long, unending weeks of winter and more winter.

But on her heels came spring, followed quickly by early summer it would seem.  The fields are suddenly bursting with grass and golden headed dandelions.  The trees are beginning to blossom and the air is full of living scents, so incredibly welcome after long months of sharp, freezing air.  Hopefully another calf will be joining her in the fields soon, another little bundle of red and white to run and skip just for the sheer fun of being alive.  The farm is expanding into the growing season again and we are beginning the months of busy work that mark this season too.

There are days, many of them, where we fall into bed boneless, the work of the day heavy on our limbs.  We can’t imagine waking with any energy the next day, yet somehow it is there.  The green of the trees seems almost magical after months of white and brown, the constant sound of birds in the day and chirruping frogs at night keep us company as we do the unglamorous work needed to keep this place ticking over.  But it constantly still amazes me, the cycle of it all spinning around again and bringing us back into the sunshine.  Long live the green days, long live the baby days, long live summer.

Baby Cow Madness

Baby Cow Madness

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.

calf-0143 calf-0145 calf-0147calf-0151The 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.

calf-0162 calf-0163 calf-0164 calf-0168I’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.

calf-0174 calf-0175 calf-0176Luckily I found a chap on 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.

calf-0173 calf-0172 calf-0169I 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.



Yesterday, as I was just beginning to make dinner, there was a knock at the door.  The dog was going crazy, the kids were running around me as I opened the door a crack to stop Winnie bolting out and crashing into whomever was on the other side in a blur white floof and massive paws.

Our neighbour was there smiling at me and announced he had our cows with him!  In a moment any worry or stress I’d had that day fell away in the excitement of it all (I also forgot I was on the phone to my Dad and had to call him back half an hour later) as we bolted outside to witness the unfurling of a long held dream.

cows-9607 cows-9608 cows-9610 cows-9612 cows-9613The cows (who have been living on our neighbour’s farm since April) tottered down the ramp and out into the pasture with the air of people viewing a new house.  They weren’t making any judgements, there were things they liked but they’d have to have a good look round before they could say for sure if it was ‘the one’.  I held my breath, does our field have kerb appeal?  Does it have the ‘wow factor’?  After a good march about and an inspect of our newly finished fence they obviously decided it would do and got down to munching on the shoulder high grass.

cows-9614 cows-9615 cows-9617 cows-9618I managed to snap a few pictures in between jumping up and down and hugging my embarrassed neighbour (he is as a god to our people), Huwyl took a couple more while running up and down the fence line with his brother as the cows took a stately stroll checking that the fence really did go all the way around.

Then suddenly we were alone with our cows, these great beasts who we are now solely responsible for.  I was reminded of that moment when you are finally left alone with your first baby and you think “what do I do now?”.  When Stephen got home to see the girls in the field he too was full of excitement and trepidation, we stood in the deepening rain and watched them until we could no longer justify the drenching.  Then we stood a bit longer.

The project of building the cow pasture has been going on since May, Stephen built the cow barn in April and we bought our first cow in March yet it has taken all this time to finally get them here.  With the wettest summer I can remember we’ve had to attempt patience as each phase of fence building was delayed further and further.  Finally this weekend, with tractor and hammer and not a little swearing, we nailed the final staple in place and the pasture was done.  Stephen hung the gate that he’d bought several months ago and voila, we had a cow pasture.

Despite my elation at finally having finished this project the pasture seemed so starkly empty, until yesterday that is.  When those cows walked into the field that we had built the farm suddenly seemed complete.  For the first time it felt like we had all the pieces in place and now we just have to put them in all the right places.

cows-9621There will be many more pictures of our new arrivals in the near future, but for now please welcome Day Star Wanderer and Morag the Black to Fernwood Farm.  Now if you’ll excuse me, I really need to go and look at my cows.