Taking care of business
Farmers have known for a long time that wives and mothers make the best calf rearers.
I’ve probably offended a few readers already with that broad opening, but I can’t help it. That’s just how it is.
Women seem to have the edge in nurturing and raising young, and a clever man will soon realise that his partner/ wife/daughter/sister has more patience than he does.
There weren’t any sisters in my family, so the boys got the job.
The memory of the cold, frosty, August mornings and the windy late afternoons are still with me.
Overalls pulled on over my school uniform. A pair of illfitting rubber boots. A beanie.
Out into the half light of the morning, regretting reading so late into the previous evening.
The hopes for our future were small by today’s standards: just 20 or so mixed breed calves weaned off their mothers and destined to become replacements for our modest milking herd.
All bearing ear tag names and separated into different pens according to age.
They never needed calling for a feed; I suspect they heard the screen door bang as I left the back porch because every morning they were lined up ready to go, driven to sucking each others ears due to the anticipation.
Teaching them to drink was one of the toughest parts of the job.
I used to straddle the calf’s neck and, holding them in this type of headlock, I could at least get them in the general area of the teat.
But that rubber teat certainly wasn’t a good substitute for mum and it took long hours to convince some of them that mother’s milk would flow if they sucked hard enough.
And long hours punctuated by some personal anguish as they butted upwards and connected with delicate parts of my anatomy.
Before we used plastic straws and teats, they had to be taught to drink straight from the bucket and the less said about this task the better.
With some loving attention, access to clean water and a few calf pellets thrown in, we seemed to escape the dreaded scours and rarely had a death.
I had a vested interest in getting a good result as one of the calves would end up at the calf scales with a cheque for me.
I struck an even better deal with my brother who paid me for raising two calves until they were poddy size.
My brother was proud of the creative names I had chosen: Torrey Canyon and Whisky Echo, although it wasn’t until after they were gone I let on that one was named after a ship and the other after a plane.
The ship caused an oil spill and the plane crashed.
Setting up school portraits with a library backdrop was intended to impress others with a more academic look.