“Whose baby is it?” I asked Laura as she came up behind the herd with a cow the calf was following.
“I can’t tell. Its mother doesn’t care about it, only this cow here does, and she had a baby a month ago.”
Laura wanted to leave it out in the pasture to wait for its mom to come back, and I finally agreed. She went one way with the cows, and I turned to cut through the pasture and directly to the barn. The calf was walking around in confusion. The dry cows and heifers in the neighboring pasture were bellowing at it curiously, and it kept startling and then tripping over itself and blinking its big brown eyes. I noticed the flies were bothering him, he hadn’t quite gotten the hang of using his tail yet, and I felt sorry for his innocent confusion and suffering.
“Baby, baby,” I said softly in a sing-song voice, holding out my hand and walking slowly towards him with rocking steps reminiscent of a cow. He backed up instinctively, but then toddled forward cautiously and sniffed my hand with a brief unpracticed snort. He relaxed a bit at my unthreatening smell, giving me enough time to get my hand under his head. I began rubbing him as a mother cow licks her newborn, with rough circular motions that rubbed the hair the wrong way. He jumped around excitedly for a few seconds, and then relaxed, shut his eyes and gave himself up to the pleasure. I rubbed the few pieces of manure off his back that the flies were attracted to, petted him a little more, and set off for the barn again. I had work to do.
I was not going to be rid of him so easily. He cheerfully trotted along beside me like a little dog, pressing against my leg as if we had trusted and known each other forever. Fences had no meaning for him, as I went over them, he simply went under. I decided to bring him in, put him in a calf pen until his mother was identified and milked, feed him a bottle, then send him back out with his mother. I opened the barn door and his eyes widened at this wonder. Before he could have any second thoughts about going into this big dark scary cave, I gathered his legs together, hefted him up to my chest and carried him inside to a calf pen.
Laura and I let the cows in and discussed how to handle chores. It was decided that I would move the fence for the cows and feed the chickens while her, Rachel, and Mary milked. I had figured out who was the calf’s mother fairly quickly— a cow named Helen.
After I had fed him a bottle of his mother’s milk, I brought him out to the pasture with me. I knelt on the floor of the calf pen, ducked my head under the bull calf’s stomach, skillfully grabbed his legs and stood up with him now lying across my shoulders. I braced myself for the initial struggle, and when it was over, made my way out of the pen and through the breezeway to the pasture. Once in the pasture, I set him down and shoved him in the direction of a cow that stared at him in dumb amazement.
I always enjoy moving the fence. The warmth of the sun on my bent shoulders as I hooked the wire through the posts, the sounds of the creaking wheel as I wind the wire, the clatter of the plastic posts as I carry them and walk with a steady measured pace through the waste high grass to step them in at proper intervals all sing of a beautiful rhythm that cries of peace and plenty.
As is their custom, a song sparrow stayed one fence post ahead of me, treating me to bursts of a bubbly song. The notes are so intertwined and filled with trills and layers and spirals that it always sounds to me as if the land were singing.
The one thing that spoils moving the fence for me is my overactive imagination. Sometimes I become afraid of this deep grass where I cannot see where I am stepping, filled with little animal trails and dents and depressions. Memories of skunks stumbled upon, and badger holes with pointed snouts and raised gums revealing pointed teeth ducking quickly into their land of roots and dirt, of coyotes, and foxes, and snakes, began to rise and make me fear this silent field of grass, waving like the ocean, may be concealing as many secrets as the watery deep itself.
I finish setting up the one line, and turn to take down the other. Suddenly, out of the corner of my eye, I see a brown animal stalking me in the grass, its spine and muscles moving like a snake and shining in the sun just below the grass heads, disappearing in and out, but undoubtedly coming after me. I whirl about, fence post in hand. Then I abashedly realize it is the new little bull calf. He has come after me—no doubt in hopes for another head rubbing.
The milking cows were standing by the old fence line already. As I began to remove it and let them into the new grass, they rushed past me with the sound of the wind through oak trees, coughing and snorting and occasionally running into each other. Then their legs hit the new grass and it was quieted into “swish, swish, swish”, and the noise of grass being ripped and chewed.
Farm Fact: A Jersey calf weighs around 60 lbs. at birth, and grows up to weigh-in at about 1,000 lbs!