I have been away for a few days; a flying weekend visit to Marseille to catch up with my son, Ben, his partner Berengere and little Camille (their daughter). They’ve recently started new jobs, found a flat to rent and settled Camille into childcare. I haven’t seen them since May; it’s been far too long.
In brilliant blue skies and unexpected freezing mistral winds we bundled up in coats, hats, scarves and gloves and set off to shop the colourful seasonal markets. Occasionally we took refuge in a hostelry where we could warm ourselves by a roaring fire, eat steaming platters of warming daubes or nurse mugs of rich thick hot chocolate before facing the elements again. We visited the ancient ochre-yellow hilltop towns of the Luberon and explored the extraordinary Village des Bories. Camille, a tiny Nordic ice-princess, with white blond hair, milky skin and the bluest eyes, was at home in the unusual icy conditions, laughing and running excitedly in the wild bitter winds. At home we caught up on six months of news, chatter and plans over long suppers and wine. It was over too quickly.
Robert and Olly were holding the fort at Locks Park and hoping to press on with the next stage in our fabulous polytunnel construction; the digging of sixteen deep holes (no mean feat on this land) and the concreting in of sixteen poles (to within a millimetre or so accuracy), which will form the structure’s anchor as well as becoming fixings for the tunnel’s huge metal hoops. They, the holes and posts, need to be deep, very strong and precise. With conditions such as they are it’s a tall order.
Earlier last week we were busy getting a former cattle shed ready to wean half a dozen or so large calves; they’d been preventing some of the smaller calves from feeding in the creep area we have sectioned off in the main cow palace. They are only nine months old but they’re big, very big – almost as hefty as some of my 18 month olds. As they were eating well I thought they would be easy to wean and happy at having a large, roomy space and more food all to themselves. How wrong was I! The poor little buggers have taken it hard with non-stop bawling and bellowing; if they hadn’t lost their voices I reckon there would still be a deafening cacophony instead of heartrending pathetic squeaky squeals. Their dams, after an initial twenty-four hour shout, have luckily settled down with contented sighs of relief at not being biffed by their overlarge offspring; they were, interestingly, my senior high-ranking cows.
I always try to avoid any unnecessary stress to my cattle and have over the years adopted a policy of weaning at the latest conceivable moment, encouraging as natural a weaning process as possible. It’s a delicate balance between cow and calf. I try to ensure the cow isn’t too exhausted and depleted before her next calving and that her calf won’t suffer any growth checks and is ready to exchange milk for cereal protein and good quality forage.
It’s interesting that my huge hulks may have looked ready in body but certainly weren’t ready psychologically to cut the cord. Though I’m pleased to report that now I’m back they’ve switched allegiance; every time they hear my voice or catch a glimpse of me around the farmyard strange strangled whistles and wheezes fill the air. And their mothers ? They look at me with knowing glances, as if to say “Well, m’dear, you’re welcome to them!”