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Sadly, Princess delivered stillborn twin bull calves at midnight.

Sad for  many reasons. It’s heartbreaking seeing a perfect baby calf being born dead, let alone two. It’s heartbreaking listening to a freshly-calved cow lowing softly as she licks and nudges her new calf with a rapturous expression, waiting expectantly for that slappy-wet shake of the head, that sneeze and the responding ‘merrr’ …which doesn’t come.  I never get used to it.

But for Princess it’s more tragic – you see this was her last chance.

Princess was born to Severn one autumn six years ago. Out of kilter with my spring-calving pattern she was the only baby calf in the herd. As a result she was indulged and spoilt by cows and humans alike. Hence her name Princess!

It was because of Princess I changed the way and time I wean calves. Due to her October birth she was impossible to wean because the herd was outside during the summer and no field barrier would be enough to keep mother and daughter apart. In the end I left them to it. Hoping as Severn came nearer and nearer to calving that she would exercise some control on her precocious milk-hungry daughter.  Amazingly she did, and in just four weeks. By the time Severn calved – with her daughter close by her side throughout the labour and birth – Princess was weaned and never attempted to suckle again. She happily took up duties as chief babysitter to her little brother while her mother went off to graze. I now try to mimic this pattern as best I can within the confines of winter housing.

But unfortunately both Severn and Princess inherited genetic fertility problems. Princess has reared two healthy calves. But she persists in calving out of sync and repeatedly returning to service. She hasn’t calved in almost two years.

On Sunday she lay down and strained, just the once, but nothing came of it. I kept a close eye on her. She began calving last night. Though she wasn’t showing signs of undue stress I was a little concerned. The sack, when it appeared, was a thick opaque white double balloon with ribbons of membrane. Then it was all over. She pushed out the twins and placenta in record time, but to no avail.

Poor Princess.

Princess's last calf 5 July 2007

Princess's last calf 5 July 2007

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The die is cast. The decision made. I’m a wreck and will continue to be for the next few days.

Desperate not to experience another year like last year and determined to make some good quality forage I’ve taken the bull by the horns and…cut. Now if you believe in the power of collective thought, or even if you don’t, would you mind willing the weather right for this week. Please.

Yesterday in a squally, red-face gale we visited a Devon Wildlife culm grassland site looking for the narrow bordered bee hawkmoth, its eggs and larvae when a well-worn, well-known, well-fingered length of grubby tattered thought began to unravel in my head. It goes something like this ‘oh god, I think I should cut’; ‘should I?’; ‘must go home, must check the long range weather forecast’; ‘it’s way too early’; ‘no it isn’t’; ‘I should go for it’ and so on and so forth. Stupid, wavering, indecisive but once ‘that’ thought has lodged itself I know I’m in for the annual stressathon. And despite having to make the same decision every year, it never gets any easier – in fact I think it gets worse!

Once home Robert drops me off at the top of the lane so I can walk down through the fields and make my assessment. I’m pathetically unsure…not enough, too short, good quality, go for it, wait a week, its okay, yes do it, no don’t. Back at the farmhouse I seek reassurance on the computer. No joy there – rain on Wednesday…or wait, is that Tuesday? Clouds, oh no, wait a minute its good there’s a high. Hang on, this one says different. Oh sod it, what should I do?

I’m alone on this one – everyone backs away with those dreaded words ‘Well, I don’t know. Don’t look at me. It’s really up to you’

I phone Andrew, my neighbour and contractor, he’s expecting my call. ‘Hell-lo, ummm, just washing my hands and saw the sun suck up water. Not a good sign. Father walked through though, said there was a high’. Everyone is jumpy because of last year and the thought of constant summer rain.

After a great deal more deliberating, heart and forecast searching, walking over fields, staring at the clouds and asking for guidance from whoever controls these matters I decided to decide and…cut!

concerned for my mental state!

Locks Park Farm

Thanks for visiting my blog. All entries are presented in chronological order.

I have a small organic farm on the Culm grasslands near Hatherleigh in Devon, with sheep and beef cattle. I've been farming in the county for more than 30 years. I've set up this blog to share views on farming and the countryside - please do give your thoughts.

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The Campaign to Protect Rural England has helped set up this blog. We want farming to thrive in England, and believe that it is essential that people understand farming and farmers better in order for that to happen. Paula's views expressed here are her own and we won't necessarily share all of them, but we're happy to have helped give her a voice.

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