I Was Wrong

May 15, 2013 § 8 Comments

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Last night I slept in the barn, curled into a sleeping bag spread across the remnants of the sheep’s winter bedding. I did this because one of our cows was due to freshen (aka calve) and she has… how shall I put this?… mothering issues. Which is to say, if one of us does not extricate her newborn calf from beneath her marauding hooves within, oh, a half-dozen seconds of it being born, she’ll stomp the poor bugger to death. This is to be our 7th calf out of her, so we’ve pretty much got the drill down.

We put up with all this because she is, in all other regards, the bovine embodiment of grace and good will (admittedly, the whole infanticide thing she’s got going on is pretty glaring defect, and were we not sentimental folk, she would’ve gone on the burger truck long ago). She allows the boys to ride on her back. She holds her condition throughout the winter, even on substandard first cut hay and not a lick of grain. She produces milk that is almost absurdly rich; once, just for kicks, I upended an open jar of cream we’d skimmed for butter, and the darn stuff was so thick it didn’t even begin to roll down the glass. Even vigorous shaking couldn’t spill the stuff.

It occurred to me the other day, in the midst of all my recent posts on kids and education and whatnot, that I rarely  write about the labors that comprise the vast majority if our waking days. Nor do I write much about the tangible products on the other end of these labors, which of course is food. I think this is in part because it’s no longer a novelty to us to devote most of our waking hours to working the land, and in part because for me at least, the nourishment we glean off our little farm is a byproduct of what I really value, which is the process. In short, yeah, I like to eat good food and it’s important to me. But in many ways, the actual labor and art of creating that food is equally, if not more important.

Which brings me back to my night in the barn, one step in the process of procuring a year’s worth of milk and butter. It was cold, but not terribly so, and I slept as I always sleep: Like someone bopped me on the head with a 12-pound sledge. I had no fear of not being woken up if Apple were to begin freshening, because part of her act is to bellow (or in local parlance, “beller”) like a runaway freight train.

At about 4:00 a.m., I awoke to pee and to wrap myself a little tighter in the bag, and for awhile after, before drifting back to sleep for another hour, I just lay there. I could hear Apple breathing a dozen or so feet away. On the other side of the barn wall, where the boys’ goats make their winter home, I could hear the soft movements of their day beginning. There was a bird calling, and I wished I knew what it was. My nose was cold.

Once, I thought it was way too much work to keep a cow that demanded such intervention. Now I see that I was wrong, and I am struck by how life’s unplanned inconveniences so often carry their own rewards.

§ 8 Responses to I Was Wrong

  • Kent says:

    This narrative allowed me for the first (and undoubtedly only) time in my life to spend the night with a very pregnant cow upon remnants of sheep’s winter bedding and experience the sights, smells, and sounds of a “night in the barn.” WOW!! What a soul-expanding moment. Thank you Ben!

    • Ben Hewitt says:

      Yes, well, I suppose it’s not exactly a common experience in this day and age although it looks as if I’ll be repeating it tonight.

  • Jennifer Fisk says:

    I’m envious. A night in the barn sounds like heaven to me. Can’t wait for the entry detailing the birth. You’ve got a great life going there. Now I’m off to change shavings for 20 meat chicks, 14 egg chicks and 4 turkey poults.

  • Vonnie says:

    …and I was wrong, because I was just saying to my husband the other day that I didn’t think you had a dog…and there it is in this photo. I spent many a night in my younger years in the barn quietly waiting for foals to be born, so I know the special joy of the barn in it’s more peaceful state of nightfall, too. It’s not something many get to experience these days, but I know of it’s magic. Good calving mojo being sent your way. ~Vonnie

    • Ben Hewitt says:

      That’s Daisy. Penny calls her the “big stuffie” because pretty much all she does is lie around like a stuffed animal.

      The look on her face with that lamb on her back cracks me up.

      Take care, Vonnie.

  • Amy says:

    So, Ben, has Apple produced her calf yet? I think a picture would be nice (hint) when she does.

    • Ben Hewitt says:

      We always breed our cows to freshen mid-June-ish, because we like to time the peak of their production with the peak of our pasture.

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