As the drifts of snowdrops slowly make way for the aconites and daffodils that follow our first Hereford calf is born. By the time the bluebells burst through, carpeting the woods a deep Mediterranean blue, the whole herd will have calved and the farm will be vibrant with new life.
It is always a bit magical to see a newborn up on its feet within minutes of arriving, desperate to suckle the first milk. Called colostrum it contains vital immunoglobulins which protect the calf from infection. Sometimes this super rich milk is stolen by a rogue cow and such thieves need to be kept at bay. Calves must suckle within the first ten hours to secure their six week fix of Mother Nature’s medicine. Their own immune system develops fully at 8 weeks so there is an anxious fortnight’s wait before we can be sure that the calf will thrive.
Rarely, after a difficult calving, it is the Mother that doesn’t make it and Nature’s medicine has to be bought and administered by hand. Bottle feeding a newborn is not for the faint hearted as a calf is pre-programmed to head butt its Mother’s udder to get the milk to flow. It is an unavoidable hazard and hurts! The sooner the orphan learns to suck from a bucket the better.
My first hand rearing experience produced an utterly tame cow. Her whole life was spent here, first living in our garden terrorising the postman and eating all the daffodils, only when she got too big did she join the herd on the marshes. She remained tame to the end and was always easy to handle, letting our children ride on her back and perfectly behaved for the open farm days we organised for schools.
I still miss her!