this (farming) life
I walked into the kitchen thinking it was time to make that soup. Out the window I saw the farmhand on a four-wheeler slow his vehicle next to a cow sitting at the far side of the paddock. She didn’t get up, and after a brief look he continued up to the farm on the hill.
The previous day, the whole milking herd had been in there — pregnant, swollen and ready to pop. I wondered: do people know that calves are taken from their mothers after a few days so we can drink their milk? They bawl heart-rendingly for hours and drink dried milk powder reconstituted with water from anonymous rubber teats.
I busied myself stripping the flesh from the chicken bones I had boiled for stock. I cut up carrot, parsnip and celery, before remembering there was a swede left in the vegetable garden. Soon there would be leeks and broccoli too. Growing our own food gives me deep satisfaction. I looked over the paddock to the cow, still sitting, no sign of a calf yet. Usually they stand up and walk around looking uncomfortable; I’ve seen them and sympathised.
My husband would know. He’d be home soon. He grew up on the dairy farm that used to include the land I was standing on now. We’d had our own two cows, too, when the children were little.
I looked up as my husband kicked off his boots at the door. “That cow’s been sitting a long time,” I said. “Do you think she’s in trouble?” He looked out the window, assessing.
“Only one way to find out. Better go have a look. Coming?”
We walked carefully to avoid the sloppy cowpats from yesterday. The grass was bruised, trampled, and rich green in colour from super phosphate. “They waste a lot,” I observed, “Grass, I mean.”
The cow tried to rise as we came close, but her back legs refused to work. “She’s got paralysis from calving. Happens sometimes. She might be OK later.”
We looked for the calf near her but the still, black shape was a couple of metres away, almost hidden by the tufts of grass.
“Damn, it’s dead,” he said. “Poor thing, it’s a big one too. Didn’t even stand: see the hoofs are still pointy? Fox has been at it already.”
I stood by the little body, sad that it died and for its mother too. The muzzle was gone, a gash where the fox had stolen a meal. It had taken an ear too. “Horrible creature, that fox. I’d almost get the gun out for it,” I said.
We pulled a couple of handfuls of grass for the cow and turned away. We knew the farmer would come back later to check on her, and take her and her dead calf up the hill. But for now he had others calving.
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