By Land Keepers, Apr 17 2014 11:53AM
On most upland farms, the wait is still on for the lambs to arrive. One or two have come, but next week should see the start of the very busy days and nights as the Herdwick ewes begin to give birth. The farmers I have seen recently have been busy fetching their hoggs (year old lambs) from their winter pastures, vaccinating, and trying to get all the necessary jobs done before the lambs arrive. And among these jobs is the care of cows and their young.
On Hannah Dickinson's farm, several calfs have arrived in the last few weeks. This reminded me of the first time I had ever been to Brockstones, in 2012, when I met Hannah and her partner Stephen using a dead calf's skin to dress another young calf, to put to a surrogate mother. I looked back in my books for the notes I made.
"We arrive a little earlier than we had said we would – more towards 1pm than 1.30pm. There’s a dead newborn calf, already skinned, hanging by its back legs from the uplifted arms of a forklift truck. The skin is taken to a young heifer, 6 weeks old, that’s one of a set of twins and isn’t growing well. Hannah and her partner prize the skin over the calf’s head, and pass its front legs, one by one, through the leg holes. It fits snugly like a sleeveless pullover.
Still red wet with calf blood. Hannah’s work-strong hands pat the heifer in the trailer, and she drives him round to the cow who waits to be his surrogate mother. The cow licks the back end of the calf, on the skin of her dead newborn. ‘Leave em for a bit now, and see how they do.’
Hannah explained that the other cow was struggling to feed her two twins. It’s unusual to put a calf to a surrogate mother at the age of 6 weeks, but worth a try.
There’s a constant background noise of dogs barking. In the sand pit beside the barns – a pile of sand used presumably for building and maybe cement making – sparrows take dust baths by the side of unturned trucks and tractors, the toys of the farm / Hannah’s children.
A crow pokes its head out of a hole in the barn’s end wall, and flies off.
There’s a nip in the air – more than a nip actually – and it’s cold. I didn’t bring my hat, nor did I wear my wind-proof and slightly thermal trousers. I regretted it !'
That young calf fared well ...
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