A Winter Arrival
By Carole Soule
Fiddlehead Contributing Writer
Mom was licking her newborn calf, trying to dry it off. The wee Scottish Highlander was lying in the wet snow, probably a bit shocked by the cold after the 101.3-degree warmth of the womb she had just left. We managed to get the calf and her mother into the holding pen where the baby could nestle in a dry pile of hay while Puff, her mother, could dry her off more effectively.
At Miles Smith Farm, we like our calves to be born in April and May. In the spring, there are more warm days than cold ones. The problem was that I had purchased Puff in June, already pregnant and due in December. In anticipation of the birth, we brought her into the holding-pen paddock close to the house, where she could be observed.
December flew by with no delivery; on Jan. 7, a black heifer arrived at 7:30 a.m.
But even in the sheltered pen, the cold was too much for the calf. We had to get her warm quickly or she could die. First, we tried a kerosene heater, which started but then immediately shut off. Rather than fuss with another heater, farm helper Melissa and her daughter, Olivia, put the calf in the truck, and we drove her the short distance to the house.
The shivering calf lay on the kitchen floor with an electric heater blowing on her. As word got out, the kitchen filled with visitors. A neighbor, Marianne, stopped by with a bottle of raw milk from Huckins Farm in New Hampton, and then our Airbnb guests crowded into the small kitchen to ogle the baby. Once she was warm, the calf, now named Lucy, sucked down some warmed-up raw milk, then decided it was time to try to stand.
Because the kitchen floor is slippery for calf hooves, we put down a yoga mat for better traction. After a few shaky tries, she was up, and soon was staggering around the house and sniffing at our Christmas tree. Although we were enjoying the novelty of having a calf in the house, once Lucy was warm, dry and walking, it was time to return her to Mom.
Two weeks later, during a brief warm spell, without any human assistance, Brittany gave birth to a white bull named Murray Scott. Until she had her calf, we didn’t even know Brittany was pregnant. A large shaggy body can hide a big surprise. Had Brittany and Washington (the bull) planned a romantic getaway? Had husband Bruce forgotten to close the gates – again?
These days, Murray and Lucy are inseparable. They escape from the paddock through a calf-sized opening in the fence to dash around the barnyard. The two will snooze in the loose hay in the feed bunker or munch on vegetable scraps stockpiled for the cows. When their moms “moo” to them, the two will find their way back into the paddock for a feast of mother’s milk.
January’s calves were an anomaly, and one that I hope doesn’t happen next year. We expect the other 10 calves to arrive as planned… in April and May. Feel free to stop by the farm to see Lucy, Murray and their new associates. If we don’t close that calf-sized hole in the fence, you might see 12 calves cavorting in the barnyard. It’d be something delightful to see, which may be why we keep forgetting to fix the fence.
Carole Soule is co-owner of Miles Smith Farm (www.milessmithfarm.com) in Loudon, where she raises and sells beef, pork, lamb, eggs and other local products. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.