Bluebell, Bunty and Snowflake were Belgium Blue cross friesian calves, reared on a bucket system. I’m talking 30 years ago plus.
Our reasoning for buying these fancy, modern continental animals was twofold. Firstly, by thinking out with the old native breeds and in with the new, we thought we were being innovative - although Nigel now tells me what a retrograde step this was. Secondly, our eldest daughter was keen to do some cattle showing, which we encouraged thinking it could be a useful confidence building exercise.
Getting Bunty, children and showing paraphernalia into and out of show grounds was challenging in itself. I vividly recall driving in very muddy conditions and having to do some hair raising manoeuvres. Showing Bunty was a steep learning curve, including frustrations and much laughter along the way, achieving occasional successes. Although enjoyable the organisation and preparation took up too much time. Ultimately we concluded that showing was not for us.
I’d like to share Bluebell’s story with you because she was such a character. Our aim was to maximise our profits by breeding animals with better confirmation and obtain improved grades. With this in mind we bought Redgrave, a Blonde Aquitaine bull of whom we were very proud.
The first year all went well. Stonking calves were produced and the Blues turned out to be good mothers. The following year we were unprepared for the ensuing problems. The calves born increased in size, resulting in some stressful calvings, including some cows requiring caesareans.
Bluebell had a traumatic calving and afterwards she was unable to get up. I felt guilty that our plans had gone astray. I was determined through sheer bloody mindedness to get Bluebell up and running again. She lay in the barn, looking as bright as a button and certainly had no problems with her appetite. We lifted her daily using the tractor fore loader and an array of slings. None of us enjoyed this process and of course it was time consuming.
A month later, I was regaling a young A&E doctor about the antics of life on the farm. I explained about the realities of a downer cow. The doctor excitedly told me about a course she had just completed in acupuncture. She proclaimed that she could help Bluebell. I didn’t want to offend her but I was dubious! When I next went to work this doctor showed me a diagram of a cow’s ear, explaining how she could apply pressure to points on Bluebell’s ears. Her enthusiasm was persuasive so I agreed to let her try on the premise of nothing ventured nothing gained. It seemed farfetched to me but we were running out of options.
No animal likes having their ears fiddled with and Bluebell was no exception. The doctor duly arrived and was astounded by the size of a real life lying down cow, larger than her usual clientele. She advanced tentatively towards her patient, reaching out to take hold of Bluebell’s ear, who responded by shaking her head with great vigour.
To our horror the doctor and equipment went flying, landing some distance away sprawled in a heap on the straw. No one said it was going to be easy performing a lifesaving procedure. We helped the doctor up, dusted her down and revised our restraining methods. The acupuncture was performed, but the cure was not immediate.
When I next walked through the emergency unit doors I was met by a very grumpy Consultant. ‘Monica, what have you done to my staff? I now have a doctor off with back pain.’ Not popular, was an understatement. But this story has a happy ending, the doctor returned to work the next day and two days later Bluebell got up and walked completely unaided. Coincidence? We’ll never know. She more or less made a complete recovery, aside from a slight limp. Due to this we decided not to let her run with the bull. However Bluebell had other ideas and went on to produce more calves. I’ve never seen a cow with a more contented expression than when we found her nurturing her next calf. Needless to say our Blonde bull was replaced by an Aberdeen Angus.
Happy endings are not always possible. I’m devastated to say that I lost my bet with Nigel. All credit to the guy at Dolphin Fair who proclaimed Horny spoilt the bunch: wise words. Ed Gingell came to scan our ewes and Horny scanned empty yet again.
While sitting around our kitchen table I was relaying this information to “Mr Crack On,” who’d been persuaded to take a coffee break. I was expecting a little sympathy…. no chance: he laughed, saying: “You’re getting your just deserts, paying the price for your stubbornness. You should have listened to Nigel and I, we told you to cull her last year.” It’s a tough world working with the younger generation!
I can take consolation from our scanning results which were much better than expected. So now I’m worried about getting the ewe’s feeding regime right in the run up to lambing. James Rebanks describes similar concerns in his book “The Shepherds Life”. I suppose it goes with the territory. I wish good luck to all those calving and/or lambing this spring. Let’s hope the weather comes good: life seems so much better when the sun shines.
My eldest daughter (a paediatric intensive care nurse) tells us she can only give one week’s lambing help this year as she’s been asked to be part of a cardiac team going out to Cameroon. It’s not long ago that she did similar missions in Jordan and Jamaica. That confidence building exercise might just have come back to bite me on the bottom.