A few days old and separated by 150 yards from his mother among a line of cows feasting on alfalfa, this bull calf returns home, to one of several shady pockets or nurseries where the calves are laid down after nursing. In good shape, we try to limit feeding this bunch of third-calf cows to once a week to reduce the pandemonium when the hay arrives—a new experience for this calf fresh into this pasture. Every cow’s head down, he’d walked the line back and forth, his calls unanswered, hot and frothy when he and another older calf wandered towards me, the older gently guiding, head to neck, the way to the nursery. The older calf immediately claimed the shade he must have risen from when the hay arrived, the younger calf still assessing his place in the world through the twigs of a fallen sycamore.
I am lost in a blond pasture
of cows with calves,
lone silhouettes under oaks
stressed by years of drought—
or nurseries: black lumps
around a cow—
the expectant gathered
under sycamores watching
babies steal the show.
Hanging in the leaves,
rubs off on me
each pair bonding
love’s rough tongue
or murmuring song,
some taught to follow
the swing of an udder.
Closer with each visit
we become family
with gesture and tone—
all the poetry
from now on.
She was not thrilled to have twin Angus calves, but we’ve been watching 3024 since they were born ten days ago, having gone so far as to make arrangements for bottle feeding one of them if necessary. As it turns out, the calf on the left was the one roused by two coyotes in our post of September 17th, when hours old and left in the middle of the pasture. It’s not unusual for a cow with twins to abandon the weakest, but now this cow seems to have acquiesced to her plight, both calves healthy and much stronger than they were. Whether she is keeping better track of them both, or the weaker calf is keeping better track of her is another question. She has plenty of milk and if she can raise them both, she’ll do a better job than we can do.
Summer breezes comb
late spring rains of golden hair,
fine-stemmed wild oats ripened
in the rocks with a trace of lichen
rouge for looks—our sexy
centerfold to hang and frame
in the back of our minds,
our cluttered caves of thought,
to remember her by.
But God himself comes often and stays long,
when the castrati’s singing disturbs Him.
– Ranier Maria Rilke (“The Voices”)
Within the quietude of dawn
streaked in yellow flame
between charred black shadows
when the sun peeks low beneath
the branches shedding leaves,
I hear voices in the canyon,
from the ridges and the draws,
of the generations gathered
where women left their track
ground in stone, and men
built barns and fences,
some yet leaning into time
unknown, for a different breed
of cattle and of dreams—
a chorus clear and strong.
And all the working hands
that left no mark upon the land
they still inhabit singing
harmony and peace
within the quietude of dawn
streaked in yellow flame.
All this time, decades of learning and relearning
reapplied to new devices designed to save time—
to bank, spend or squander somewhere in the future
with no guarantees made selfish sense, a singular
detachment from the congested urgencies swirling
like autumn’s colored leaves in a quest of rest
and peace. How he craved the storm’s building
energies, the dark electricity thundering rain
to erase time’s tracks, that might freeze the moment
into days and weeks. Old flesh come alive
with the prospect of starting over again, cotyledons
of grass for cows and calves—a refreshed relief.
Long shadows on blond feed tall,
standing skeletons of oaks from drought,
the gray cow caught talking with an iPhone
to her new, silver-belly calf.
No audio, too far to catch the vocabulary
lesson, the inflection of each murmur
into song, the guttural beginnings of all words—
a universal language of basic sounds
with deep meanings that defy time
and cultures, that survive the latest plague
of progress and the genius of science—
no better teacher than a mother cow.
One would think that after 46 years of calving first-calf heifers, we’d be more relaxed about such a natural process where maternal instincts usually insure a successful calf crop. But I confess our anxiety is high this time of year, perhaps in part because we’ve seen all different kinds of failures from coyote kill to breach births to heifers more social than maternal who leave their calves alone too long to gossip with the other girls.
This morning before checking the first-calf heifers bred to Wagyu bulls, I drove up the road to see two coyotes taking turns trying to hamstring a brand new Angus calf belonging to one of the third-calf cows who was nowhere around. My shot that missed sent them off in different directions, but they’ll be back. While checking the calf, its mother showed up, looking to take me as I rolled it over to make sure it was OK.
Not far away, a first-calf heifer across the fence was down in labor, two feet showing when she stood up. I left her to check the rest of the first-calf heifers. About an hour later I returned as 5176 was licking off our first Wagyu X calf of the season.