The lottery of new life with an old bull

Holly is lying apart. She is ready enough to join the others when I appear but afterwards heads down towards the wood, alone. It looks like nesting behaviour, preparing for calving, but she is showing no signs. I watch her rear: no sign of puffiness or her tail carried to one side, nor of the other tell-tale signs like, strangely, obsessive headscratching. If I am wrong, as often before, the weather is mild enough for any newborn to stand a good chance even without the shelter of the calving shed. I am in no hurry to disrupt her by joining her to the crabbed old dears in the calving paddock.
Flora looks huge but then that is how she shows these days promising for months and then producing late and with difficulty – something failed in the birthing muscles. Last years calf dropped and lay: no interest in the world or the tit, all urge for life expended in the process of entering it. I fed her with a stomach tube for a week and then introduced her to the tit, spraying her muzzle with warm yellow milk until she finally accepted first one, two and finally all four. She went on to develop into a strikingly good little heifer, outstanding at the Oban sale last October, being adjudged reserve champion. Would she remeber that early passivity and my tortuous interventions? Almost certainly not, but I do: it is an outcome that fuels me to guard every precious life.
I cannot tell who will be first, or when. This year is unusual as I cannot be as confident in Billy. For nearly a decade he has been reliable and prompt, but this summer I watched as the old boy broke into a huddle of my neigh bour’s cows, singled one out and then failed to rise on stiffening rear legs. Did he manage to serve my ladies this spring? Did he have to make several attempts, delaying conception? I can only watch day by day for any signs of the greatest farm drama: that of new life. This year it is a lottery.
This afternoon I quad a trailer of woodshavings from the workshop clearance to the bonfire pit. Billy watches quietly from the hardstanding as I work the gate below, unmoving, dignified, splendid. He is the heart and guardian of the farm. He will see his family grow once more as the year strarts over.


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