By Kim Carr:
Was feeling pretty proud of myself this morning. I got an early start on the day, had everything planned out. I would get my chores done—Bing, Bang . . . get the dogs fed, shower, fix breakfast, and be ready for my 10:00 Zoom workshop by 9:45. Then I would clean house and be ready for my friend who was coming out to visit. I had everything worked out in my head for how the day would go.
I’m not sure why I like to plan things out. Someday I will learn. Someday I’m just going to get up and start my day all Doris Day–like . . . que sera, sera. Fortunately, I have the ability to adapt quickly to changing plans. As a farmer, I know plans seldom go the way you think, but I can dream.
I wasn’t outside doing my morning chores for very long when I noticed one of my cows was not acting like herself. She was across the pond crying out. Everyone else was lined up along the fence waiting for me to bring them some feed. She kept standing next to this small mound of dirt, bellerin, so I feared she had a baby that didn’t make it on the ground.
I hurried up and fed the cows so they would leave me alone for a few minutes while I checked on my lone cow across the pond. I headed out across the field, and once I got closer, I could see a baby on the ground, but it wasn’t moving. I said some prayers as I hurried my steps. The mom stood over the baby, still bellerin, as part of the afterbirth still hung from her back end. As I knelt next to the newborn, it lifted its head. Oh Lordy Bee, a flood of relief went from head to toe.
Of course, it was cold this morning, and this newborn was soaking wet. I immediately took off my outer coat and removed my hoodie. I put the hoodie over the baby as I put my coat back on. Right away, I went to rubbing and drying the baby. Mom is Kilo, a first timer. She stood right near me licking the baby’s head as I worked in the rest of the body. Times like this I really miss my mom. I could have called her, and she would put some towels in the dryer. She would roll them up and stuff them in a bag so I could tend to a baby with fresh, warm towels instead of a dirty ol' hoodie, but it worked in a pinch.
Being a heifer (i.e., first-time mom), I wanted to get Kilo and her newborn into the yard and into the shelter for them to rest, dry, and bond. Of course, Kilo had her baby a nice little hike from the yard. The baby wasn’t really that heavy, but my back tonight says it was a workout.
Naturally, Kilo kept wanting to go back to the spot where she had the baby as I carried it farther and farther away. So, I stopped every fifty feet or so and would set the baby down wrapped in my hoodie, and guide Kilo to her baby. By now the entire herd had gathered around to check out the newbie. Kilo would wander off, and I thought about calling my friend Patty to come out early because I didn’t think I could carry the calf and get the mom to come with me.
I didn’t want to leave the calf out in the field, as one of my young bulls was acting aggressive with his horns around the baby. With Kilo being a first-time mom and not being very protective, I didn’t trust that the baby would be safe.
By now it was almost nine. I had a Zoom workshop starting in an hour that I was supposed to help run. Luckily, I work with an amazing team of ladies. I sent a text as I stood over a newborn calf, rubbing it dry as I waited for her mom to catch up. Just that fast I got a reply that everything was under control and not to worry. So, a big sigh of relief; I didn’t need to rush, which always makes things better. It also gave me time to daydream about having a well-trained Border Collie or two, or a Gator with a bed where I could haul the baby to the house while mom followed along. Of course, I’d feel out of sorts if I had such luxuries, and how would I get my exercise???
As I kept making my way across the field toward the yard, I got a little nervous because another cow, Keely, was very interested in the new baby. Sadly, Keely calved last week on the one day in three weeks that I left home to run errands. I have no idea what happened, but her baby didn’t make it. Trust me when I say animals do mourn, and the loss of a baby critter on the farm is one of the hardest things about farming. It sucks.
So, Keely is following me closely as I try and make my way across the field carrying the baby. Problem is, Keely isn’t my friendliest cow. She wouldn’t think much about putting a horn up my backside then stomping me into the ground for good measure if she thought I was hurting that baby. So, I moved slow, did a lot sweet talking, and looked over my shoulder frequently. On the plus side, Keely’s interest in the calf somehow got Kilo to follow along too, which resulted in everyone following me. I felt like the Pied Piper.
I finally made it to the yard gate and was able to set the baby down on a nice dry spot of grass in the sun as I tried to herd her mom into the yard without twelve other cows filing in too, because there’s just a hint of green grass starting in the yard. This is another point where my mom would have bundled up and come outside to work the gate for me as I pushed the right cow. She would have helped me cut Keely out and get Kilo in . . . but I was alone and did the best I could. Two cows in the yard are better than none.
At this point I was grateful to have Kilo and her baby in the yard. I’d deal with Keely later. Both girls seemed delighted with the tiny bit of grass coming up in the yard and seemed to forget I just hauled a calf halfway across the farm. No thanks or appreciation from them, but I was pleased with myself. I picked the baby back up and made my way to the chicken house in the yard. We call this chicken house the hotel—seems appropriate. This is the third calf it has housed this year.
I got the baby settled into a pile of hay sheltered from the wind. The house is wrapped in clear plastic tarps to keep the wind out but let daylight in. The hotel is cozy, and I immediately felt better for the baby, who was still damp but had stopped shivering. I filled a bucket of water, fetched some feed, and pitched some hay into the hotel. Keely had made her way down to this end of the yard and was happily cleaning up chicken feed. I had to go to the other end of the yard and herd Kilo toward the hotel. She quietly walked in, and I blockaded the doorway until I could get Keely out of the yard.
Keely was happily munching away not far from the gate. I got her to follow me to the gate by offering some grain but had trouble working the gate while trying to get her out of the yard and keep three more from coming in. She would get just to the gate and turn around. I decided to let her graze for now. She was offering free fertilizer and mowing services; how could I complain?
Back at the hotel, I peeked in, and Kilo was laying down next to her baby. This was a good sign, as she wasn’t stressed or panicking about being in the hotel or away from the rest of the herd. This made me very happy. So, I went about putting up the dog kennel to make a yard for Kilo to keep her close to her baby until I know they are bonded and that the baby is getting to nurse.
Most likely I have a couple hundred zip ties for art shows. Could I find any of them to build my kennel? NOOOOO. However, one time my brother was out doing some work on the ducts in the basement. He left behind a pack of the largest zip ties I’ve ever seen in my life; they are like two feet long and half an inch wide. They are obnoxious but allowed me to put up a makeshift yard for Kilo and baby. The only bad thing was that now the chickens and ducks that use the hotel for shelter and egg laying, well . . . they couldn’t get in and out with the kennel up. So, I walked around until I found the right chunk of cattle panel to make a raised door that the chickens and ducks could walk under but Kilo couldn’t, as long as she stayed calm.
With the yard built, I opened the house up so Kilo and her baby could be inside or out. I headed back up to try and get Keely out of the yard. No other cows were around, so I was able to tie the gate open and usher Keely out. Success!! All the cows are where I want them to be.
I head in the house, starving, stinky, dirty, wanting to shower, do laundry, and eat, but the Zoom workshop is underway. I decided to log in and join it in progress—thankfully they can’t smell me or see the state of my clothing, it was not business attire; well . . . actually, it was business attire for a farmer.
The rest of the day was a lot calmer and spent visiting with my friend Patty. She had made me a beautiful Afghan rug and delivered it to me. Having a baby calf today was just a bonus treat for her, as she loves all my animals. In the past, if someone visits when there is a new baby, I let them name it; So, welcome to the world, Patty Ann.
Kim Carr is a photographer and mid-Missouri hobby farmer who has combined her love for the country life with that of natural-light photography. Her work reflects my commitment to sustainable agriculture and the humane treatment of all animals. To learn more about Kim, read her interview with Elizabeth Gracen here.
To purchase Kim's photography, visit her website: kimcarrphotography.com