Number 19.

Number nineteen.

Exhaustion set around eight o'clock. A young heifer pranced around the paddock with two tiny feet protruding under her tail. I was tired, grubby and hungry. I didn't need this. She appeared to be doing dressage as we attempted to corner her. The rest of the dry cows took themselves off to a feed trailer to pull on sweet, ripe silage. Her tail swung high in the gathering gloom. She stopped to snatch at some grass, before head up, setting off again at a fast canter. I watched her for a while at a distance. Obviously distressed, she circled and pounded at the floor. I wanted my bed. I had anticipated finishing milking, washing down the yard, having a quick check of the cattle and going home. It wasn't to be. The feet appeared to be upside down. I couldn't risk leaving a breech birth to nature, especially in a small heifer. I watched as she tentatively lay down, and heard a long moan. She pushed and looked around, startled by what was happening to her. She stretched out her neck and bellowed, long and deep, before getting up and disappearing into the gathering gloom. My much anticipated chicken casserole, so carefully prepared earlier was probably shrivelling up as I watched, burning on to the side of the dish. Milking had been a disaster, relatively speaking. The last heifer to calve had finally braved coming in the parlour, only to panic and thrashing wildly, roll into the pit with me. I was bruised and sore by the time I had got her out and retrieved the fallen units that lay gasping and sucking up muck. The thought of a hot meal and a warm bath had spurred me on, but number Nineteen had other ideas. I was a good four hundred yards from her when she decided to demolish the fence and crash unprovoked into the yard, skidding on her knees towards the silage pit. At this point I was mentally querying my sanity. Why, when the rest of the world were at home, eating dinner and generally being civilised human beings had I willingly chosen farming as a career move. I opened the gate and let her pick her way towards it. In obvious discomfort and terrified she snorted and picked up speed again. She launched herself at a wall and crashed down on her side. This was my chance. A little pressure on the feet and she resigned herself to her fate. There was no chance of the niceties, gloves, warm water a calf puller. Just me and a bottle of lube, a scared animal and a potential vets bill to consider. I maintained the pressure on the legs which immobilised her, She rested her head on the concrete floor, eyes rolling. A feeble attempt at moving and she lay back again. I worked quickly. I attached ropes and feeling the tail I pulled down. This time she helped me, Her back legs thrashed the air and then she pushed. The wet calf came out at speed and lay lifeless on the floor. The heifer lay still, panting, oblivious to what had just happened. I cleared the mucous from the calf's nostrils and mouth. I had precious little time to save it, if save it I could. I massaged it's leg on to it's chest and tickled it's nose with straw. For whole minute, no response. Then suddenly and explosively it sneezed. Shaking it's wobbly head it blinked and surveyed it's new world. I pulled it to the front of the heifer. She looked shocked, then made a primeval bellow and instinctively started licking it with her raspy tongue. The calf mooed and the heifer responded with a low throaty call. I stepped back and proudly took in the scene under the harsh yard light. Nature had taken control and number nineteens innate senses had finally kicked in. In that precious moment I realised that I actually had the best job in the world, even if dinner was now likely to be a cheese sandwich and a bag of crisps. Jan Millward©