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Weaning calves – always something to shout about

January 19, 2013
Plenty of food doesn't usually keep them quiet

Plenty of food doesn’t usually keep them quiet

Jane’s very sensible. I know this. She has an uncanny ability to calm me; I know this too. An important trait to look for in a partner, although I’m certain it didn’t make the list when an overwhelming need to marry her developed in me, some years ago. I got in yesterday evening saying that I intended to get out again later to check the cattle. Jane’s immediate reaction left me with no option but to agree to a lazy evening at home , away from the snow and freezing wind. Something like “we’ve told all the neighbours, we’ve fed the cattle far more than usual, made sure the barriers are secure – there’s nothing more to do.”

After eight months free access to mothers’ milk and a certain amount of maternal protection and polishing, yesterday the calves were weaned. It feels mean and they certainly let us know how they feel: at least 24 hours of bellowing usually results. The cows join in but I suspect this is more in solidarity than regret; they really need to be free of the physical demands of lactation, to enable them to maintain body mass and build their next good, big calf.

These days we separate them only with a string of steel hurdles – enough to keep them from suckling but not to prevent nose-to-nose contact. Being a bit soft, this seems to us, the kindest way to do it. We’ve twice split them to opposite ends of the farm. The first time, the cows crossed the river to get back to their calves; the second, the calves pushed through a fence and went walk about, late at night. That wasn’t an experience we want to repeat.

A bit of noise is one of the downsides of having a herd of cattle in the village. We live out of earshot of the shed, so don’t hear them, but of course our neighbours do. As usual, I felt awkward, when faced with a neighbour walking his dogs. He laughed it off with a “Didn’t hear anything; and anyway what do you expect if you live in the country?” I hope at least some of that’s true.

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