September 11, 2008
I am twenty-three years old and I just discovered that I am a mother. My daughter is round eyed, snotty, and, weighing in at nearly fifty pounds, will mostly likely grow up to be quite a cow. Yes, literally.
I knew the day would be a long one when I saw Wayne holding the binoculars to his eyes to peer out to the far field, a half mile from the main barn, “I think I see a splotch out there,” he warned me, indicating that one of the cows in his herd of thirty had calved.
My directions were clear. Walk out to the field and carry back the newborn calf. The mother, with all parental concern, should simply follow me back to the barn.
All eagerness and energy, I practically jogged the dusty laneway toward the field. This is only my second week as a farmhand, and all of my experiences still sparkle with novelty.
The calf is laying quietly in the middle of the clover-filled field; its mother stands some meters away, licking complacently at the gummy sac of afterbirth which she has dropped behind her. I approach the calf, surprised at its disinterest in me. The last time I had to help carry back a calf it sprinted a good fifty meters before we had a chance to tackle it. This calf, however, seemed barely conscious. Its fur is matted in manure and afterbirth, and I slide my hands beneath its legs, despite my displeasure. Collaring my arms around its front chest and rear end, I stagger up and nearly slip in the wet grass as I attempt to walk with this deadweight calf. The early morning sun slanting long light into my eyes, I trudge stolidly toward the barn. After a few hundred meters I begin to worry. The calf has barely made a sound and shows no signs of struggle. Most calves are incredibly energetic and unhappy at being separated from their mothers. Yet this one’s quiet and despairing attitude is unsettling.
Despite the heavy load, I grit my teeth and push on to the barn. Wayne helps me bed down the calf and we look her over. She is smaller than most, and the mother has not followed her down from the field. “This happens sometimes,” explains Wayne, “there is trouble during birth, and the mom just ain’t interested in her calf after.” I nod, still concerned. What will happen to this newborn? Will she grow up without a loving mother? Wayne senses my concern, “How about you try to get some milk into her? She’ll do a lot better soon, I promise you.”
I teach the calf to suckle a short while later. Lying beside her in the wood shavings, I hold her nose to the plastic nipple and hum softly as I rub her back, attempting to imitate a mother cow licking off her dirt. During this process, the connection was made. Suddenly, I was more than a hand on her back, I became her mother. Between carrying her from the field and giving her milk, I had given her the attention and the care she craved. Her wide dark eyes fixed on my face. I could imagine her stomach(s) working for the first time, juices and processes set in motion through the shockingly nutritious creamy thick which poured down her fresh throat. No mother could be prouder.
While I may have certain misgivings regarding my current employment, all of my doubts are quickly swept away when I consider my newfound daughter. Born on a day that comes with enough baggage of its own, her beginning was an understandably difficult one. Nevertheless, despite her limp as a result of her complicated birth, she walks with confidence, swift to punch her head into my hip, forcefully demanding milk and attention. I appreciate her scrappy attitude. Stubborn cow.