We have a special connection, her and me. She is eighteen now, old for a cow, and an illogical keep, but I cannot get rid of her. She is my favourite. She started her life as a Show Queen, pampered and beribboned. Once she was a stunning specimen – a champion of her breed. Now she is an elderly bovine with a graying muzzle, one eye gone and smooth skin covering the empty socket, skinny legs and an enormous girth. I nearly lost her last year to an infected broken hoof, and the vet despaired as I spent endless hours nursing her back to health when he thought the sensible thing to do would be shoot her. She is a gutsy old thing, and I owed her that I try while she tried. Of course she pulled through.
The other cows still respect her, and watch out for her. And in return she watches out for them.
She comes to the fence and calls. Soft at first, and then insistent. I step onto the verandah, and she waits until she is sure I have seen her. The paddock is flush with feed. She cannot be calling for treats.
She turns her head and lumbers away and then stops, spins and calls again. I am sure she wants me to follow her. Pulling on my gumboots I clamber through the fence while she waits. Then we are off.
Halfway down the hill is one of our young heifers, lying in a pool of bloody fluid. Her udder is all bagged up and it’s obvious that she is in labour. Her first calf. The old cow steps up to her and gingerly presses her nose to the heifer’s in an act of reassurance. Then she looks up at me and glares. I am sure I am meant to do something.
I look around at the business end of the heifer. Her cervix is dilated and the membrane is broken. I can see what looks like a snout. The old cow hollers at me. “Do something!”
Gently I push my arm into the birth canal. I should feel feet but I feel a head. I feel around some more. The legs are tucked up, making the calf in the wrong position to birth. I don’t know what to do. I am at home alone. If I go back up to the house and call a neighbour or the vet I will lose the calf. If they take too much time I might lose the mum.
The heifer puffs her breath and lifts her head to look at me too. Bert my dog sniffs gently at her and licks her face. She doesn’t pull away, and keeps looking at me. I sigh, say a little prayer, and push my arm back into her, pressing on the calf’s head. I feel it slide backwards and I grope around, pulling one leg and then the other into position, as if the calf is about to make a graceful leap into the world.
“I’m sorry, girl,” I say, patting the heifer’s flank with my bloody hand. I have nothing to pull her calf with. I am totally unprepared. “I’ll go and call the vet.”
As I stand to go, she pushes. Just a few quick pushes and the slippery calf slides out and lands at my feet. I tear the sac away from its body, and mum manoeuvres herself so that she can lick the calf clean. It is breathing.
Soon mum is standing, and I gently lift the baby calf to its feet and guide it over for her first drink. I feel such a sweet gratitude for life, and for the interconnectedness of all things.
767 stands beside me and lets me rub her ears and neck. Because of her, two lives are saved and our herd is safe and well. Don’t tell me animals don’t feel, think or care. This wise old cow is still teaching me new things. I consider her one of my dearest friends.
Here’s mum and bub this morning. I named the calf Emmy. All is well. ♥ I love my farming life!