"Cows are my passion. What I have ever sighed for has been to retreat to a farm and live entirely surrounded by cows–and china." Charles Dickens

January 3, 2012


Most mothers in the animal kingdom are excellent mothers.

Not all mothers are good mothers, some are even horrible mothers. We know this exists among humans but it happens in nature, too. Sometimes a mother cow will abandon her calf, despite its bleating. Other times a mother cow will die in childbirth or soon after, despite the best interventions, thus orphaning her young. It is sad but you can't linger in the sorrow of it or it might consume you. I have developed a thicker skin since living on our own farm, especially after the loss of three dogs (to our own naiveté about the predators on the farm, including other neighbor dogs), many chickens, and several cows (and deer, raised from birth, who have returned to their natural nearby habitat, as it should be). Rule number 1 is for a reason: don't name your farm animals.

Inevitable loss is a part of farm life that isn't often shared. While we raise beef cattle that are well-cared for here at Valley View Farm, they will eventually end up on someone's dinner plate. This is the reality. What we can do is provide them a good life while they're here. I concur with Wendell Berry: "I dislike the thought that some animal has been made miserable to feed me. If I am going to eat meat, I want it be from an animal that has lived a pleasant, uncrowded life outdoors, on bountiful pasture, with good water nearby and trees for shade." Hypocritical? Perhaps. I do not claim to be a vegetarian but there are times since living on our own farm when I have questioned my predilection for meat.

Wilbur is often by himself in the calf pasture.
Last winter we had several calves born during a cold bout of snow and miserable conditions that persisted into January. Most of those calves were abandoned by their mothers from death or circumstance. Each was bottle fed and only one has lived this long. But he exhibits many characteristics of "failure to thrive": he is smaller than his peers, he is a bit slower, and he doesn't look so well. We were going to ship him but I asked that he remain here on the farm for the rest of his days. He may not make it or he may. I didn't even have to pull my best Fern Arable. My husband agreed. Of course, we'd named him Wilbur and his small black Angus companion, Charlotte. This summer we found Charlotte on her side, dead in the creek. She had been separated from Wilbur and I think that she was lost without him, even though she had been surrounded by other cattle. The two were often spotted off by themselves. Since that time, Wilbur has been with his own peer group but is often alone, seeming to prefer his separation from the herd.

Meet Edgar Meeker Pond! (Yes, I'm nuts.)

Just after Christmas we had our first truly abandoned calf. A newborn Hereford calf was found bleating in the pasture behind the house. For days my husband, boys, and some men hired to help move the cattle, went looking for the mother. No luck as no one was coming forward. It normally would have been easy to spot her: she would have seemed frantic, bellowing and carrying on, especially if she had heard the cries of her own calf. So they brought the calf over near the sorting shed and we've been bottle-feeding him ever since. I've named him Edgar (an old untapped surname on my mother's side). And yes, he's staying. He and Wilbur will have their own "pleasant, uncrowded life outdoors, on bountiful pasture" for the rest of their days.

You come back when you're ready!


1 comment:

  1. Which just goes to prove that all babies need their mamas regardless of species.


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