Saturday, June 03, 2006

The Little Red Heifer

"A lot can go wrong," says Morris in classic understatement. And there is little time in which to correct it or rue it when calving. The day began for the red and white heifer in companionable silence with the other cow waiting to calf. Both of them are too full of the life inside them to be comfortable in any position. The evening concluded with sprung hips and a new calf. Between were several opportunities for things to go very wrong.

The red heifer moved easily enough into the lane between the delivery room and the paddock, but she was skittish: uncomfortable, wary, defensive. She wanted someplace quiet to settle down, but she resisted going into the small building. Once in, she charged repeatedly. On one charge she carried Morris briefly along with her but was stopped before she could put him between her and a wall or an immovable gate--the proverbial rock and hard place made all too real. With each misstep--hers or mine--I lose more and more nerve. When she picked up the heavy steel gate that had been my shield and wore it like a necklace as she pushed me along in her mad charge, I lost my nerve completely. "One more time, and then we leave her," I say, hoping not even to have to make that one more effort.
"No," says Morris. Simply no.

I don't know whether he is just stubborn or has finely honed intuitive knowledge and so is certain that we can manage. Inertia or faith result in one more time with a lasso around her neck to draw her into the space where we can attend to her and her calf. More charging, rope tangled, stuck between a gate and a wall with a wild animal at the other end of a rope with madness on her mind. I tell Morris I have lost my nerve. "No more."
"OK, then go."
"Not without you."
"Your choice."

Stubborn or insightful and courageous? If we survive, we are the latter. If not, then people will shake their heads knowingly and talk about the foolishness of it. A lot can go wrong. Even with the heifer in place, a lot can go wrong. The rope meant to be a lifeline to the calf slips. It catches on the small bones rather than the larger bones of the hooves protruding expectantly, hopefully from the now subdued heifer. The wild escape at any cost look has been replaced by the unseeing stare of pain or exhaustion.

The calf's hooves, barely protruding, yield to the rope a further sight of the front feet. Reddish, warm to the touch. The warmth is both a relief and a call to urgency. More hard work and and the tongue shows itself. Pink, moving. Now begins a race against time. The calf's nose appears and it takes a breath on its own.

The heifer, small, perhaps too small in the hips, cries in pain and then bellows and drops her head and falls to her knees. Morris quickly loosens the rope around her neck which has grown dangerously tight with the thrashing of her head in pain and the confusion of the calving. With more exertion, the calf's head emerges. He open his eyes. He makes a noise. But no more progress. He is stuck between two worlds.

Morris works alternately pulling the calf out and sticking his finger's in the calf's mouth. "Just keep breathing, little fellow." Now we all have a job to do. I hold her tail and worry about Morris, the calf, the heifer, and myself. The calf breathes. Morris tugs on the block and tackle and sits on the ropes to persude the calf into this world.

The little heifer bellows and struggles to remember the morning in the paddock in the cool silence of a Highland morning. Her companion echoes her cries. And finally in a splash of blood and fluid, the calf slides onto the floor. The heifer collapses with the exertion. She breathes heavily and has the empty eyed stare of someone looking into a different world. Morris unties the rope from her head, moves the calf onto a soft straw bed, and then returns to get the heifer onto her feet. She rises quickly but unsteadily. She moves awkwardly but without hesitation toward her calf as she rumbles the special language of mother and calf and starts to lick him dry.


At 1:18 AM, Anonymous ampiggy said...


At 8:34 PM, Blogger ZACL said...

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At 10:07 AM, Blogger landgirl said...

To ampiggy-- You can say that again!

To zacl--I will check out your blog and re fermin layfe
och aye!


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