There's nothing better than finding a healthy newborn calf in the pasture. Nine months ago (July-August), we put our breeding bull, named Washington, with the cows while they grazed on green, summer grass. So far this year, ten calves, seven heifers (girls), and three bulls (boys) have been born.
Thankfully, none of the cows needed assistance during birth, and the calves started nursing without human help. A farmer dreams that all calves will be born healthy, stand within an hour of birth, and start nursing on their own.
That doesn't always happen. Last year, for instance, a young cow named Isabelle had trouble during labor. The unborn bull calf was large, and his mother was small. Husband Bruce and I used the power of an ATV to ease the stillborn calf from the womb as the cow lay in pain on her side. At first, we thought we'd lose the cow, too. Fortunately, she survived.
Other times the calf can't find the milk machine, a.k.a. its mother's udder, and needs human assistance. It takes a patient cow and a persistent human to convince the calf to suck, but like a child who loves ice cream, once a calf learns to latch on to a teat, they never forget and always go back for more.
We've gotten smarter over the years. After a calf is born, we move the mom and baby to the relative safety of the holding pen to be sure the calf doesn't run off, that it starts nursing, and to give mom and calf some alone bonding time. Moving a cow with a calf at her side can be tricky, so recently, we decided to move the expectant mom before birth. This way, only one critter has to be moved; a far easier task than moving a wobbly calf and protective mother. Our new plan worked, and last Sunday morning Barbie gave birth in the holding pen. We shut the gates, so mom and daughter were locked in together. Easy.
All the recent babies (Willow, Hamish, Moonlight, Daisy, Emma Rae, Hersey, Heidi, and Rhona) are now safe from coyotes, enjoying the comfort and protection of the holding pen while Lucy and Murray (January calves) run unfettered around the farm.
If you can't make it to the farm to see these bundles of joy, stop by the Audubon pasture on Silk Farm Road in Concord to see 10 of our Scottish Highlander cattle. The grass in this pasture (leased from St. Paul's School) has been slow to grow, so to keep our beef boys fed, every few days we deliver a 1,000-pound round bale of hay. They typically tear the bale to bits with their horns before eating; maybe this tenderizes the hay to make it tastier. I don't know, but it is fun to watch.
For a glimpse of the happenings around Miles Smith Farm, watch my daily videos at https://www.milessmithfarm.com/blog. Walk with me through the fields looking for newborn calves, or see the crop of new calves stretch their legs as they chase each other in a calf version of Tag. It sure beats watching the news.
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Carole Soule is co-owner of Miles Smith Farm (www.milessmithfarm.com), where she raises and sells pastured pork, lamb, eggs, and grass-fed beef. She can be reached at email@example.com.