Back in my early years of farming, I would spend time socialising with my new herd of cows as much as possible. As the shepherd and protector, it was important for me to get to know each one of my animals in order to know how to handle them. Only ever having raised household pets, I only knew how to look after animals in a domestic fashion. It only seemed right to practice the same techniques on the cows as I saw them to be no different to a dog or cat, they were just a lot bigger. I would talk to them and give them names. Handling was that of coaxing and asking, rather than being forceful and demanding with bikes or dogs. I tried to learn to communicate with them with gestures and a tone of voice, but more importantly I endeavoured to earn their respect.
One beautiful Autumn day, no wind, perfect temperature and no flies, I knew from checking on the herd earlier that there was a cow getting ready to calve down in paddock two. Because I didn’t want to disturb her with the noise of the quad bike, I decided to walk down to where I could see all of the herd sitting and resting in the sun. On arrival into the paddock I could see that the calving cow GRA 15 was on the flat, across the creek and under the willow tree on her own, and the rest of the herd were all sitting on the side of the hill, chewing their cuds, all facing her and watching including Awesome the bull the father to be.
I spotted my favourite cow Lady and went over to say hello and give her a scratch. Once I’d given her enough attention I decided to sit down and join her, so I sat down between her legs with my back against her stomach chewing my chewing gum like the cows around me chewing on their cud, and watched the first calf of the season being born.
When I first got there I could see that 15’s bag had been passed and knew that the delivery wouldn’t be too far off. This was her second calf so I didn’t expect her to have any problems. I could clearly see her pushing, then she’d get up and have a sniff, do a few circles before laying down again and getting back into it. It didn’t take very long before I saw two hooves appear and they were facing downwards like they should, the calf was in the right position and was coming out without any problems. Four, five more pushes and its head was out, then it’s front shoulders and finally it’s body slid out of her and landed on the ground in a big gooey lump with the sac still attached. 15 quickly got up and managed to break the bag from off the calfs head and proceeded to clean her newborn calf.
The second the calf hit the ground, Awesome got up and headed over to where 15 was now busily licking and cooing at her little one. He sniffed the calf vigorously then turned to 15 and started licking her neck. I believe that it was his way of congratulating her. More time was spent licking the calf clean while Awesome the bull stood by watching. He put his nose up in the air and curled his nostrils, like a salute to the gods, let off a loud bellow, then wandered off to resume grazing.
One by one each of the cows got up from where they had been sitting and went over for a sniff and to show 15 their approval before wandering off to start grazing again. I went last out of respect, 15 showed no hostility towards me and was more than happy for me to bend down and say hello to the newest member of the herd. I didn’t hang around for long because it is important for them both to bond, satisfied that all was good I walked back over to where Lady was now eating and watched again from a distance.
To be a part of that and seeing the response from Awesome and how every cow paid her respect to both the new Mum and her calf, showed me that there is great support amongst the cows for one another. When it was time to sit down again and pass her afterbirth, I noticed that one of the cows came over and stood over the newborn and kept watch. After ten or so minutes GRA15 had done her business and had started eating the gross lumpy bag of membranes. Cows generally do that so the local foxes wont be attracted by its smell and come near their newborn calf. Once she was done, she returned and the cow standing guard, who nodded her head at 15 and wandered off.
I had just witnessed something very special and the experience was something that I have never forgotten. It taught me that herd animals not only have a pecking order but they also look out for each other and were very supportive in this instance.