Ferdinand

Ferdinand, a loveable Scottish Highlander bull, is a member of the Miles Smith Farm herd.

As we drove down the hill, I looked back at the farm. What had I forgotten? Did I tell farm-sitter Craig where the electric-fence switch was? Would he remember to check the hay feeder and fill it as needed?

Plans for this Thanksgiving trip to visit family in Georgia had been two months in the making, but that morning as we drove away down our dirt road, I was sure husband Bruce or I had forgotten something. You must know what it's like to find a reliable person or kennel to take care of your dog. The plants you nurtured for months must be watered, but not too much. The cat needs to be fed, with maybe a little petting. So much to plan, it sometimes seems easier to stay home.

Now imagine you have a herd of 45 cattle. You can't bring 'em with, and no kennel will take them on. So my options are limited. Besides, one of the cows is hugely pregnant. When I purchased Gina, a Scottish Highlander, in October, I was sure she would give birth a few days after she arrived. Unfortunately, a timely delivery was not in Gina's plans. She is enormous, possibly carrying twins. Twice in the 20 years, I've been farming, have my cows produced twins. Those births were done without human help, but when I think back to the single-calf deliveries that went wrong, I can't help but worry about twins.

If Craig doesn't watch Gina closely and be ready to assist, she and the calf or calves might die during labor. I left him instructions to call the vet at the first signs of labor and purchased a calf puller, a contraption used to help extract a calf from the womb, and surgical gloves. (Of course, since I have these tools, Gina will now give birth without a problem.

There are other concerns, too. It's not like all the cattle can be left to graze. We have a group of newly weaned calves that need their choice of hay or grain once a day, as well as two other groups of cattle on the farm that need hay. Some of our cattle are grazing at the Audubon pasture in Concord. They have plenty of grass, but a hard freeze could turn their drinking water to ice. I hope that the warmish weather we've had lately will continue so that any overnight freeze will thaw during the day.

My plans are complex enough; think of the dairy farmers who need to make arrangements for twice-a-day milking. On the other hand, I can't help but envy the crop farmers at this time of year. Nothing they leave behind is going to die of thirst.

Unlike children, who can travel with their parents, my cattle must stay home. But I did bring our dog, Flora, and her luggage, which we loaded into our pickup. We also piled in two trunks of family memorabilia to share with the relatives and the bike I'll be riding when I exercise high-energy Flora. With all the stuff in the truck, we look like a modern version of the Beverly Hillbilly Clampetts.

I hope my staff doesn't mind (they don't have much choice) my calling home twice a day to ensure the "kids" are OK. Meanwhile, we'll enjoy our road trip and the chance to socialize with family after more than a year of separation. I hope you had some good family time, that any travels were problem-free, and that by the time you read this, we have one or two brand-new, healthy calves to be thankful for.

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Author Carole Soule is co-owner of Miles Smith Farm in Loudon, N.H., where she raises and sells beef, pork, lamb, eggs, and other local products.

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