This video shows my cousins, Sue and Gordon, helping a cow give birth to her calf. It’s a little graphic, and perhaps not to everyone’s taste, so be forewarned. If you’d like to see less graphic depictions of English farm life, go to the listing at the right of the screen and click on “Crich and the farms.”
This video reminds me of the times when I was a child staying on my grandparents’ farm several miles from Sue and Gordon’s, and I would see my grandfather insert his arm up to his shoulder into a labouring cow that was having trouble giving birth because the calf was dead, too large, or breech–its back legs coming out first. He’d move the calf around until he could locate the front legs, grab them, then pull the calf out. It’s not as easy as it sounds, and can in fact be very dangerous because the cow is in great pain and doesn’t always appreciate the farmer’s help.
When cows are about to give birth, farmers will bring them to a field near the house or to the barn and check them frequently throughout the day and night, because if they’re unable to expel the calf and there’s no one around to help, most likely they, and their calf, will die.
Every once in a while a calf would be born dead on my grandfather’s farm, but one time when I was around seven or eight I remember my grandfather pulling a dead calf out of the cow and onto the floor of the barn. It lay there, so, so lifeless, and I started to cry. Then my grandfather grabbed a handful of straw and started rubbing it really hard. I couldn’t imagine what he was until several minutes later when the calf shuddered and opened its eyes. It seemed miraculous then–and now–that my grandfather could bring an animal back to life. The cow started licking its calf, as does the cow in the video, and then at some point the calf staggered to its feet and made its way to its mother’s udder where somehow it knew to first butt its head against the udder to release the milk. Wherever it happens, and no matter what animal it happens to, birth is pretty amazing.
The cow in this video is a Friesian, which is a breed that produces high volumes of milk, had “gone to the bull”–in this case, a red Hereford. If you know bovine breeds, you’ll see that this calf takes after its father in terms of its facial markings.
If this calf had been a heifer (female), it would have joined Gordon and Sue’s herd of dairy cows, but because it’s a bull it will be sold at market after spending some weeks on the farm, first drinking its mother’s milk and living in the shelter of the barn, then moving on to a powdered version mixed with milk, then finally on to grass, hay, grain, and water during its sojourn in the field with the other calves. Then off to market, to be fattened up on a farm that raises beef cattle.