Since meeting Jack, I’ve experienced a lot of “firsts.” From my first time bottle-feeding a lamb and seeing my first slaughter, to having my first article in the Farmers Journal, there have been plenty of milestone moments. Last month saw another big one, when I gave my first interview on national radio, appearing on RTE’s “Countrywide” programme. I had the pleasure of being interviewed by my fellow Irish Country Living writer, Damien O’Reilly. We chatted about this blog and the adventures that ensue when town girl and country boy collide.
One of the first questions Damien asked was, did I remember my first visit to the farm? I do, of course — largely because it was during that same visit that I saw my first calf being born, and that’s not something you forget in a hurry!
We’d been going out for a couple of months at that stage, Jack and I, and while I’d been out to the farmhouse, or the “homeplace,” as he calls it, a few times, they were fleeting visits, mostly in the evening when the day’s jobs were done. A cup of tea at the kitchen table might have been had, but that was the height of it. I’d yet to set foot in a paddock or yard.
On this particular Saturday, however, Jack’s parents were away for the day and so it fell to him to keep an eye on the one or two remaining heifers that had still to calve that season.
I learned a few things that day: first one being, I’m not a fan of quad bikes.
On arriving at the house and, from a distance, noticing a cow in difficulty, Jack suggested that for expediency’s sake, we hop on the quad to check on her properly.
I had Top-Gun-gone-country in my head — images of a romantic journey across sun-kissed fields, the wind in my hair, my handsome leading man with his foot down, steering us off toward the sunset.
In the end up, it was closer to Mission Impossible, with the mission being ever getting me onto the back of a quad bike again. Those things don’t feel half as sturdy as they look.
However, we made it out to the cow safely. I didn’t know what exactly I was looking at when we arrived around the backside of the creature, but I knew enough to know that the calf’s arrival was imminent.
And so, it was off to the pen for the expectant mother, with Kildare’s answer to Tom Cruise and his less than happy co-star rumbling along behind her.
Second lesson of the day: cows are stoic creatures. Standing at the action end, phone at the ready, eager to capture those special moments for the benefit of those back home, I commented on the fact that despite being in the throes of labour, the cow never made a sound. The only hint that anything was going on was an occasional widening of her eyes. And not an epidural or birthing pool in sight!
I’ll admit to being a little taken aback by the rough and ready nature of what’s involved in “pulling” a calf. I’d never heard the phrase before, but between the ropes and the knots and the sheer brute force that’s required, you’d be hard pressed to find a better word for the process.
When the calf did emerge, sliding into the world and onto the ground with a squelch and a resounding plop, I applauded. Rookie mistake, as there was no guarantee at this stage that he was alive. Jack’s brother cleared the animal’s airways and thankfully, within seconds, the little creature had come around. His mother went to work, cleaning him off, and in no time at all, the baby was making moves to stand. It really was a beautiful thing to watch. Over within minutes, and a new life on the farm.
All in a day’s work for Jack, perhaps, but for me, something truly special that I felt fortunate to witness.
My sentiments weren’t echoed by those back home. After texting Mammy two photos of the birth in process, her response was swift and to the point: “UGH! How can you watch that? I’m going to vomit.”
We’re not entirely sure where my love of animals came from, but suffice it to say, it probably wasn’t passed down from Mammy’s side.
Final lesson of the day? Farm yards and anywhere within the general vicinity of a calving cow are no places for white jeans and canvas shoes.
Close to two years later, and I’m proud to say that I have my own pair of wellies now. I hope to graduate to the green, altogether more serious ones in time, but those have to be earned, and for now, I don my leopard print boots with pride.
Indeed, ’tis far from farming I was reared, but with every week and month that passes, I find it becoming an ever bigger part of my life — both by association with Jack, as well as my own, first-hand experiences. I wouldn’t change it.