Only a few more cows left to calve telling me that soon it will be my turn. I feel a lot of empathy with my heavily expectant counterparts; the slow and laboured march to the water trough and the constant grazing. Like their own calves, my two little boys are full of teaspach (a local term used to describe the exuberance and spirit of young calves when new straw is scattered around them or on hearing the familiar splash of creamy milk reaching their bucket, a wholly bucking, jumping, break dancing show).
Teaspach to the heavily expectant mother is the most challenging. While one doesn’t want to break their spirit, a mother has to use up some of the battery life on some exercise that ensures everyone in the farmhouse gets a full-nights sleep. I find living on a farm helps; obviously, there are safety concerns that young cowboys have to adhere to but the farm is a veritable childhood obstacle course designed (in my mind) to help the farming mother harness some of that exuberance.
There is no shortage of adventures. Provided with a knapsack that includes a biscuit, toilet roll binoculars and a fascination for any insect/rodent/small animal or bird that moves; little boys can safely tour the perimeter of an adjacent field in full view of their mother. And every little find provides a relay back to the same mother to show their findings or perhaps a little kiss for a nettle sting. Spirit in tact, they wander back on their expedition.
Bringing the cows in for milking is another luxury in the world of heavily expectant mommying. There are few calls as welcome to a mother who has just prepared the dinner and washed up as ‘Boys, do you want to bring the cows in for milking?’ Oh yes they do! Suitably attired they walk out the door behind their father as I flick on the kettle for my real cup of tea; the ‘cows come home’ cup. An utterly bovine experience that allows me to sit for a moment while my ladies in waiting chew the cud outside the window in harmony.
From where I’m sitting the grass is green. But the farmer isn’t happy yet. Not green enough, not dry enough. A bit too soft for the girls (his cows). An after dinner tour of a field with his young sons has him perturbed. From the house, I see him walk in the field, shaking his head with his sons in order of height shaking their little heads in sympathy after him. This time last year we didn’t have enough grass in front of the cows, this year it’s too wet. It’s as if he himself is responsible for the earlier bad weather that has left ground drenched. There are a number of factors governing grass growth that fall within a farmer’s remit but the weather is in God’s realm as it were.
Farmer’s, for the most part, work in isolation. They spend hours in the milking parlour, in fields fencing, in tractors alone with too much time for thinking. There is, as with other businesses, a lot of competition. However, unlike other businesses, you are not for the most part, in competition with other farms for profit. This has allowed for many profitable cooperatives to grow over the years in this country. No, It is a different kind of competition that pushes farmers at times. Have you got the cows out yet? How much are your yearlings making? Have you still got fodder for cows? All your manure spread? Pride.
My job as farmer’s wife is complex. Like the priest in the confessional, I listen to what he percieves are his farming sins. I let him talk about all he believes he is doing wrong, farm wise, before offering my tuppense worth, some perspective. I’m the coach in his corner, spurring him on, reminding him of the bigger picture. The accountant, advising him when to be prudent when the milk cheque is stretched. The partner, keeping the flag flying on the home front, some delicious dinners, a creamy sponge, a chat about what his little boys have been up to. The girl, sprinkling his life, when needed, with some joie de vivre and therefore reminding him that faraway fields are not necessarily always greener…