The yearling heifers and steers pompously prance in their pasture. With each glance at their herd mates, they challenge each other to a playful head-butt, romp or a race.
In the milk room and parlor, the washing system hums to a close, finishing the routine cleaning that occurs after every milking.
In a separate part of the barn, the Guernsey dairy cows sigh satisfactorily after sipping their water and follow the lead of the young stock, exiting the barn excitedly, nostrils widening with whiffs of earth in the air, and eyes appearing to envision warmer days ahead.
Within designated maternity pens — large individual pens we set up with clean, dry bedding, and a personal buffet for a pregnant cow — one pregnant cow chomps at her hay buffet, nearly oblivious to the excitement surrounding her.
Another cow, Marley, stands watch, unusually guarded about the surrounding excitement. I take a mental note of this during the curtain call of evening chores, and I suspect that in a few hours a different form of excitement will arrive.
The night has already inked across the fields and into the corners of the barn when I finish the last scheduled project, which falls under the umbrella of “planning the work, and working the plan.” I respond to the day’s emails, update the farm calendar for the coming months — a schedule that lists our various farmers’ markets, events, reminders for tasks, deadlines and cow due dates — and set my morning alarm clock to wake me with music.
Even with the arrival of night, and the daily lists, deadlines and due dates, I have a hunch, like most experienced farmers and animal caretakers would, that the day is not finished.
My hunch began by observing Marley and her behavior — guarded observation of her surroundings and displaying what I refer to as our cows’ five P’s of bovine pregnancy: preoccupied, ponderous, pacing, and the look of, “privacy, please!”
I grab a jacket and head into the night, across the driveway. Even though the snow melted a couple weeks ago, the light scuffle of my boots atop driveway gravel still gives me satisfaction. Before I enter the barn, I hear a low moo. To my ears, it is both a demand and a greeting.
But experience has taught me, the greeting is not for me.
Marley pauses when I turn on the barn lights. She glances at me, takes a breath, laps her nose and hums her maternal moo to the baby. The newborn calf is still damp as Marley commits to cleaning off her baby’s hair coat.
While Marley laps her baby, I grab supplies to get at least an estimate of the calf’s birth weight. In the time it takes for me to walk the length of the barn and back, the baby has stood up and begins the wobbly trek to coordinate four legs in search for the first feeding.
I add some hay into the pen Marley can eat when ready, and so the newborn will have a cozy place to rest. I confirm that the baby is a heifer. After I record the heifer’s weight and sex on the barn calendar, I note that Marley calved one day ahead of schedule, which is fairly precise.
After recording this information, I return to the observe Marley and her baby. Quiet chomping of cuds and snorts of other cows at bedtime serve as the backdrop to slurps and sucking noises coming from the newborn as she eats.
Many of the moments I spent on my family’s farm observing and assisting with the birth of new things began with a plan.
For example, planning for the birth of Marley’s calf began nine months ago. Yet, in the moments of planning, I’ve learned that precision does not always happen.
Fortunately, there are times in farming, as in life, when precision isn’t achieved, but the results of the plan are. I’ve learned that in these instances, experience and action are great allies. After all, it is experience — like developing skills to identify our cows’ ‘five P’s of pregnancy,’ — and action — Marley birthing her calf — that gave us results: a healthy new herd member.
As I’ve been reminded more than once, achieving an end result is why we began the plan in the first place.
Anne Trenholm operates Wholesome Holmstead Farm with her family in Winthrop.