The Joy of Calves

I never would have thought I would love calves as much as I do.

I entered this profession without an innate love of cattle, having never dealt with them before in any capacity. I thought I would just deal with them for work, and get used to it. After three years of daily interaction, I have formed not so much a passion, but an appreciation, respect, and fondness for the animals.

Calves however, conjure up stronger emotions.

The first time I stroked a day-old calf was surprising. She was so soft, softer than a mink blanket and the opposite to what I had expected. Cattle are so tough – we make leather out of the hide – it was eye-opening to see how soft and cuddly they can be.

When calves are under a week old, I’ve noticed that they are ready to investigate anything and anyone. To get a calf to come up to you a lick your hand is more probable in the first few days of their life. After that they become more bonded to their mothers and it seems the flight instinct is activated.

For the first day or two all a calf does is eat and sleep, just like a human baby. A calf will go and find itself a cozy spot in tall grass away from the main herd and sleep off his belly full of milk till he/she is ready for a top-up again. Then he/she will come out from hiding and find Mum.

Watching calves play is one of the privileges of what we do.

They just exude happiness.

When the sun is out and their bellies are full, they will splay themselves out in the sun, heads back, eyes shut and legs any old how. Sometimes I watch them for a while till a tail or ear moves, just to make sure they are still in the land of the living. It is a bit of a give away when you can hear them snoring from meters away!

A habit they never grow out of is to curl up like a wild fawn when they sleep. We sometimes see adult cows with their heads and legs tucked away looking like a giant sized Bambi.

It doesn’t seem to matter what breed; all calves are born with huge ears! When I see them flapping in the wind as they run it makes me laugh. They have the longest eyelashes you’ve ever seen and Jersey calves sport thick black eyeliner as well.

Dominic always makes sure the troughs are low enough and full enough of water so that even the smallest calf can drink. I thought calves live only on milk for the first month, but we have observed them drink water and nibble on hay or grass as well. From the first week of life, our calves avail themselves of the lick blocks we have out for the herd. Whether this is a learnt behaviour or not is a question we don’t yet have the answer to.

One day we were heading out to ear tag a new calf not yet a day old. He was with his mum, sitting together in a corner of the paddock. The cow, number 50, is a very placid and calm cow, and she loves to come over for a scratch. When we approached the pair, her calf tried to get up, but mum made soothing noises and using her head, pushed him back down again. This happened several times. We lost the desire to ear tag him so left it for another day. It seemed like a betrayal of her faith in us if we went ahead and caused him pain, when she obviously was telling him he needn’t be afraid!

Living with the joy of interacting with calves is an unexpected pleasure. If I am having a hard day, I go and visit the herd and watch the calves. One or two might even come up to sniff me and lick my fingers. It brings a smile to my face and some sunshine into my day. As a de-stressor I highly recommend it!

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