this (farm­ing) life

The Weekend Australian - Review - - Contents - Jenny Canty

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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