Bridport Times April 2019

Page 34

Wild Dorset

BEGINNING Ellen Simon, Tamarisk Farm


ur cows’ main job is to be mothers, and they are very good at it. We can recognise the start of each cow’s mothering by hearing her talk to her young one. She will start when she is beginning labour and uses her special mother’s voice only for the next day or two. As human beings we raise the pitch of our voice when we speak to our babies. Cows lower theirs, making a very particular sound, one we never hear at any other time. If we hear the characteristic quiet, brief lowing as we go out in a darkening evening to check the cattle, we know for certain that there will be a calf newly dropped or one about to appear. It’s a mother calling for her little one. Over most of our calving time the cows are housed beside a path from the market garden to the farmhouse; everyone walks that way whenever they can, not only to enjoy seeing calves fresh in the world and then playing together when they are a few days old but also to notice whether all is well. We know that almost all of the cows will labour and calve by themselves but still we make a point of knowing what is happening most of the time. 34 | Bridport Times | April 2019

It is not necessary to attend but it is prudent. However good they are there may be some reason to stay, but whether or not we need to be there, we like to be. There are distinct physical signs when a birth is imminent and also more emotional ones: a cow may be restless, stand apart, maybe take herself to a quiet place. If she is young, her mother or sister may stay with her supporting her privacy. We watch for the signs and teach them to anyone who might be walking the path, asking them to tell us what they see. Thus, we often know which cow will be having her calf next and look out for its arrival. We like to tell local children if a calf is on its way; they stand quietly where they can see but not disturb the mother. The cows are professionals at this; it is after all their raison d’être and, ignoring us, they get on with their work which is strong and physical. Our work is observation: we check how the calf is lying ready for birth, ensuring that it is diving out, one front foot coming first with the next one just behind it and with a nose to follow, and we check that the cow is feeling active and strong. If all is well, we simply