I pulled my first calf this morning. That makes me a farmer for sure. I learned how to do it by reading James Herriott’s books – it just goes to show how useful reading is in later life!
We have been waiting and waiting for Daisy to give birth. Every morning asking Ben ‘do you think Daisy will have had her calf this morning?’ and then going off for a drive to find her still pregnant, udder full to bursting, waddling on the pasture, unconcerned. This morning still no calf but as I walked back from the gate where I had been chatting to the fencing man who came to do a quote, I saw that she had started labouring. All our little herd were around her giving quiet support and protection as she engaged in every animal’s most primal act.
I watched in the sun as she pushed and rested. Backing up as she pushed, tail held high and then snatching at grass in between times. After a while I realised she didn’t seem to be making much progress and when she lay down walked over slowly to check. Two feet still in the sack protruding and no sign of the nose so I grasped the forelegs, broke the bag and tried to pull. Nothing happened so I put both hands in to feel for the head. It seemed to be quite a way in and I could feel the tongue lolling out of the mouth and so I pulled with left hand fingers hooked in the jaw and right on one of the forelegs and urged Daisy to push. One huge heave and the head was out but no signs of life. Another and the baby was out and on the ground but inert and very dead looking. I reikied it and stroked it hard and talked to it and exhorted it to live. Paddy came over and licked it while Daisy rested for a few minutes. Finally it breathed and the heart started. It was probably only 2 minutes but it felt like a long time . . . I briefly considered picking it up and shaking it or whirling it around me head but it was pretty heavy so lucky it started breathing without my having to resort to such extremes!
Daisy got up and busied herself with cleaning the ground of the detritus of birth before she attended in any way to her baby. The calf flopped and wriggled, wet and fish like on the ground, in its first attempts to ‘find its feet’. Finally Daisy turned her attentions to her child, licking and nudging her to stand and then when she did, cleaning her up as she shivered in the sun and sneezed all the amniotic fluid out of lungs and head. Daisy was in true primal mode. Normally she is so placid and relaxed but this was high drama and urgency – cleaning up so as not to attract predators, getting that calf on its feet and moving so it could run away from any attack. All the other cows were there as a shield, watching with interest, not getting involved, but lending support just by being there.
Daisy expelled the placenta and promptly ate it, scrubbing the grass clean with her tongue. Still the baby hadn’t had a drink and it was clear that there was a time for everything.
I left them to go for my run and came back to find a girl calf with a full belly happily sucking on her Mother and Dais licking me as if to say ‘thank you’.
But then I wondered – did I need to intervene or was it all unfolding perfectly? Was I right to get in and help or was I unable, like so many doctors, to just sit and wait and watch and allow and TRUST?
We don’t do trust, us human beings, do we? We don’t trust nature or ourselves or our children, friends or family. We don’t trust each other, we don’t trust that there is a force far greater and more powerful than us which rules the heavens, has natural laws and knows far more than we do. Or is it just that we are so scared – of death, of standing by, of the rawness and urgency of life at its most primal, that we feel we have to DO something, we can’t just sit and wait and be present in the moment and conscious in the flow of life’s great mysteries.
It was a beautiful thing to watch and be part of. It was a beautiful day. And now I have more empathy and sympathy for those medicos who insist on pulling and grabbing and cutting and sucking babies out. It’s fear and awe. I need to learn to wait and watch and so do they. I’ll never know whether Daisy needed my intervention this morning or whether she was just fine on her own. Neither will they. We all need to trust the Mother, trust the baby, trust the process, trust the forces far greater than us and just enjoy being witness to a miracle.