Number 428

On my first married Easter on the farm, I helped deliver calf number 428. It was chaotic. I was only in the yard to remind my newly married spouse that time was ticking and that we had to be driving to my parent’s house in Cork. I wouldn’t ask it now. Come on. But remember, I was new to this and he was still trying to break me in.

So I arrived in the farmyard in my flowery wellies trying to move him on when I heard a lot of mooing; three cows were calving. Himself was helping two cows out in the calving house, one of whom was having difficulty calving (the vet would have to be called) and another who needed some assistance. One nervous heifer (first time mother let’s say) was nervously backing out of a paddock not knowing what was happening to her (in labour). To ease her worry, I, of all people, stepped in, she who had never seen a cow calf before, to help calm the lady down. I shu-shu-shushed her, cajoled her to calm down with my ‘there-theres’ until eventually she settled herself down in a feeding passage (portion in front of the main sheds where silage is placed for the cows to eat) to calf. Not the perfect location let’s say.

When the vet arrived for the cow in the shed, the scene was chaotic, with the two in the shed in trouble, one in the feeding passage in labour, not to mention the new wife in flowery wellies practically singing to the calving heifer. I remember the poor vet asking Dan bewildered if ‘all was alright?’ not quite sure of the scene he had come upon. To be honest, my lady would have calved away by herself but being enthusiastic and fully sure that this new husband of mine could not manage without his new Jane Eyre, I stood behind the cow as she calved. He had given a few instructions. When the crew beans (calf’s hooves) appear and I was sure the calf was coming out the right way, I could help ease the calf out with the cow’s breath. I felt it; and if truth be told, it helped me when it came to my turn in the labour ward. With each exhalation, she pushed her calf further along it’s journey out. I would wait for her to exhale and then pull on the crew beans to help ease her burden. With a breath, a nose appeared, and she’d breathe again; a nose. Eyes, closed. Ears. Shoulders and then slide, the release into the world. She delivered calf number 428.

She was the first little calf I ever helped to deliver. There was so many that Spring and in my quest to impress himself, I spent a lot of time in those days, feeding calves, preparing bedding, cajoling newborns to drink their milk. I remember 428 as a healthy calf. In the years that followed I continued to know her as she was a bit of a pet. They normally don’t but she was one of those who would come over to you for a bit of a rub. If I was hanging out the washing and the cows were grazing in the field behind the house, she would always come over to me. It’s as if she knew.

So Thursday, I got the text. He was selling cows and would I get the cards ready (each cow had a passport that goes with them when they go for sale at the mart)? Her number appeared. There in the list of numbers was number 428. Honestly, the same day was crazy busy. It didn’t have a lot of time to register with me. There was Christmas tree to sort, kids stuff to attend to, I had to milk the cows (me, yes!) so I put it to the back of my mind. Before I knew it, she had left the yard. I can only say that she lived well here. Knowing him, she had always been treated well, ate in fine pasture, sauntered into milk each day for us. But it doesn’t make it easy when a cow leaves the farm. The difference is now though is that I’m not that girl in flowery wellies ‘playing at farming’ anymore. I’m all grown up. Farming is our family business and is our life here. Just like my hands that are no longer soft, I know that we give our animals a good life in return for their produce and then when lameness or old age threatens them, when they don’t go in calf or when their milk supply goes down, it’s their time to leave the herd. No matter what their number.

It’s hard. I’m sad both for 428 and for the girl in flowery wellies who watched her coming into the world. When I finish this post, the thought will be put to bed as I get on with the next chore of the evening. You know, if you’ve read along this while (and I thank you), then you’ll know that I love farming but it really can be a very hard life.

Number 428.

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