Tuesday 11 October 2016

New Zealand Adventures : 18. Sal - The Dairy Farmer and The Love of Eros...

Kia Ora!

And now, the end is near, and so I face, the final curtain.....but not yet...

Greetings from my rather bumper animal themed blog post from the 'Land of the Long White Cloud' - Aotearoa, my time is nearly up for my travels across the far away land of New Zealand. But I have some last experiences to share with you.....first, in this blog post....from a Calf Nursery on a NZ Dairy Farm.

Being a curious person, I wanted to experience working on a Dairy Farm and see how the industry is run.

**At the time recording this video, I was naively unaware of the fate of these calves. At first, we are led to believe they are abandoned by their mothers but in fact are taken from them a couple of days after birth to be sent to be slaughtered and grieving mothers are impregnated again to lactate milk which isn't intended for human consumption. I struggle to find the moral well being of this and after seeing the true nature of dairy industries, I have personally chosen to not contribute to the industry by consuming beef/veal or cows milk for both ethical and environmental reasons...

But....a bit before that back in Kaikoura...

Mid winter, saw some gorgeous weather in Kaikoura, very un-winter like compared to middle of British winter! I was still working at the aquarium staying in the owner Janelle's caravan wherever we pulled up for the night along the beach front. At night I would hear the rumbling of the midnight freight train and couldn't resist the urge running alongside them as them chugged along the tracks heading north into the night.....

Midnight Freight Train.....

Staying on the beach front, best way to start everyday

Farewell Kaikoura! - beautiful place on earth!

Sal - The Dairy Farmer

Now personally, my flame of enthusiasm burns brighter when I'm around animals. I like to use travel as a means to grasp opportunities I wouldn't find presented to me at home so, buzzing with infectious curiosity, I signed up to be a volunteer on a NZ Dairy Farm 20km north of Christchurch city for one month to see firsthand the process of how milk from the cow in the field gets to this on your supermarket shelves.....

right at the beginning of calving season........Although I seldom drink the stuff myself (I personally think its just calf growth food), it would give me a chance to muck in and learn about animal husbandry and work alongside a qualified vet who specialised in hooved mammals (ungulates).

With the snow capped mountains overlooking the 28 paddocks (fields) and 340 cows on the Dairy Farm I was working on, I was told, was alot smaller than usual Dairy Farms around New Zealand but alot of milk is actually exported from New Zealand itself overseas so the most authentic place to experience life on the Dairy Farm would be here in the South Island. So I got out of my comfort zone and gave it my best shot.

And I quickly learnt that especially working with animals, every day is different and full of surprises.

And to get good at anything, you must make every mistake in the book....

This is my experience......

A new day dawns on a frosty winters morning at the Dairy Farm

There were four main herds on the farm, the Run Off/Dry paddock where the heffers (cows who have not yet calved, but become 'cows' as soon as they have given birth) are in the first stages of their pregnancy, the Springer paddock where the heffers are just about ready to give birth, the Milkers - the cows who have already calved and are now lactating and lastly the Chlostrom herd who have recently given birth to calves, who's milk is taken to feed new born calves in the nursery for 24-48 hours.  

The breeds of cows on the farm consisted of the classic black and white Friesian (best milking cows), Jerseys, Crossbreeds (from artificial insemination from a blood line of good genes) the brown and white faced Hereford and black Angus (which are sold for cattle).


Whilst early work times on some Dairy farms could be as early as 5am to begin milking, the average start time for us would be 8am to begin drafting the milking herd into the yard. The cows needed to be milked twice a day, as they needed to have their udders empty, not only for milk supply, but their udders would get painful holding 20 - 30 litres of milk between their legs - can you imagine that!

Drafting the whole herd was done on a quad bike and moving herds of cows needed technique where you have to get around the back of the whole herd and coax them forward so eventually they will follow the others (sometimes there were occasions of where some very bold ones go against the grain and turn back on you jumping into creeks and under electric fences - I learnt this by making every mistake in the Dairy Farm book) so you have to keep some distance behind them.

The herd then have to be coaxed down the farm and pushed up to the holding yard where we separated them into two groups to prevent them getting over crowded. If the cows have given birth recently they sometimes would have after birth and placenta on their backsides and slimy and solid blood on the ground, sometime with a little calf meandering its way into the group too. The yard can be quite dangerous if you trap yourself between a 'a cow and a hard place' as being nervous animals as adults, they will try to move away from you and can turn if they feel scared or intimidated. With all the big animals in the yard at once, the ground also gets quickly covered in blood and faeces which makes its slippery for them when waiting to be milked - some ambitious ones do attempt to jump the fence....and get stuck half way....sigh (pity I didn't have a photo).

The staff on the farm, sometimes used a stick to coax the cows into the milking shed with various calls (mine tended to be 'issshhhh issshhh issshhh' or 'pppushhh ppppusssh pppuuusssh'.) flaying your arms around driving them into the rows of the shed.

Yes, I think the ladies thought we were the ones who had mad cow disease.....

The arch-shaped shed we were milking in was called a 'herring bone' milking shed and could hold about 19-20 cows in each of the two rows. The new mothers needed training to get used to the milking routine which, at times, could be pretty daunting to them, motor noises going, penned in tightly together with suctions....yes suctions on their teats (not old school hand milking like a milk maid....even though, technically I was a milk maid with the new age term of 'Dairy Assistant').

I was actually told, on some dairy farms in NZ there are milking designs which allow the cows to milk themselves......what???!?!?

Ta dah! After a lot of pushing and shoving getting them militantly in line with a stick (again making every mistake in the book doing this) the ladies are ready to be milked, facing the right way and mildly distracted munching away on some moo chow.

The engines turn on sending the pumps chugging at full speed, the tube airways are opened and the cup suctions are ready to milk.

The four suction cups that are placed under their udder on each teat (or at least you try to place straight on each teat of the cow)

Now, a milking shed is pretty noisy.....well not pretty noisy, very noisy with the motors chugging and the cows mooing, makes its pretty difficult to hear. Donned in overalls and rubber gloves, the extra accessory you need in a milking shed is an apron and shoulder covers.....

Why? Well lets just say, 40 cows all penned together with their backsides facing you....there's a lot of mess.

You first can squeeze the cows teat to get them used to lactating but attaching suction caps on to the teats of cows is not always that easy......you have to reach under them to find their udder, feel the teat with your fingers whilst holding the cups and also be wary about a pile of loose cow dung or pungent smelling pee showering all over you!

Let just say, its not work fit for a princess.

Stubborn cows who are new to milking or just rebel against being milked will often try to kick the cups of their udders which then get sucked up with muck and get blocked. A trick was to blow air through a tube into their vagina (a vet obviously did this) to get them more relaxed and to co-operate.

Its a constant multi tasking operation, being vigilant about loose cups and trying not to get your hand caught between the cows legs and the bars (which I did suffer once, another mistake) and also remembering which cows had already been milked.

Perfect example of how to milk a cow, you can see how much mess is in the shed already, If they have coloured bands on their rear legs, it means either the front or rear teat on that side of the cow is blind or dry. It usually would take 10 minutes to milk one cow, averaging a daily amount of about 20 litres of milk per cow. You could tell a cow had been milked by the warmth of the tubing or the feeling of liquid vibrating through the tube. Or.....you could just squeeze the teats. When a cow has completely finished milking, its teats are sprayed with sanitiser to prevent infection and help the ladies freshen up before they are released to continue their day in the fields.

The cows are then usually given a spray paint colouring to tell the vet how many times they had been milked so he was aware of experienced milkers or more resilient ones branded 'K'. Once the Milkers herd are divided and released from the milking shed, the Chlostrom herd are brought in, many having to have their milk tested to be deemed suitable for consumption, A splash of milk is squirted from each teat and mixed with a substance of RMT to test white cell count (max. 400,000 cell count or lower). If the solution becomes gel or slimy than it is not good for the market and should be loose and milky.

Cows who have 'mastitis' where their udder and teats become painful and inflamed need to be treated with a dose of penicillin. You can tell by the look of the swelling of the udder and any cows being treated with penicillin for other illnesses have to be milked last with the milk discarded. They generally were covered in red spray paint - nice colour coding system! as if to say 'you've got the lergy'....

Evening Ladies.....

The milking process would happen twice a day so sometimes you are full on for 9 - 10 hours with a couple of hours break in between, in either the milking shed or with the calves in the nursery right into nightfall, as they too have to wait for their dinner of warm fresh milk straight from the mums. It certainly was a job that kept you extremely busy, always a cow to milk, calf to feed, or mess to clean up....the 'do list' was never ending. Because the cows are in the yard and milking shed for quite some time...they, well.......go alot........so the shed, suction cups and yard would be covered in faeces,sometimes with three layers of cow poo! yes three layers! which needed to be hosed down.

I had never seen so much crap in my life.

Collecting the milk straight from the udders to the calf milk buckets. When left, the cream rises to the top and creates a layer of fresh cream nestled on top of the milk and turns buttery - if left too long, it becomes like clumpy yogurt and not the best to feed to calves, hence why the milk drums and buckets had to be cleaned out every day with hot water to kill any bacteria or parasites.

The farm averaged 400 litres of milk per day which was collected and heated in a Milk VAT system to kill bacteria and mixed with cold water and cooled in a ciston.

Milk then needs to be stored below 10 degrees celsius (ideally 4-5C) in the VAT which keeps churning the milk through the day and night. The VAT itself can hold a capacity of 12,000 litres of milk and needs to be collected after 2 days.

Que the milk man.....every day, the milk truck would arrive at the farm to collect whatever milk we had stored in the VAT. The milk truck would visit individual dairy farms in the Christchurch area to collect milk in the truck which could hold up to 29,000 litres - 20,000 litres in the front and 9,000 in the back - now thats a whole lot of milk! 

Not your average milk van is it!

The drivers attach the VAT hose to the tank to empty out the milk into the truck, taking samples of each farms milk to be tested for any bacteria, parasites or traces of penicillin - which could mean a hefty fine for any traces found, which is why its important to distinguish well and sick cows from eachother when you're milking them (due to so many cock ups I just stayed away from it all!)

From the beginning of August till October is the usual calving season and the busiest time to be on the farm where milking is only done seasonally. After 2 years into a heffers life, they can breed and bear calves after a 9 month cycle through natural breeding systems or are artificially inseminated to produce calves with a good gene bloodline (a specialist comes in and inserts the bulls good sperm into the cervix of the heffer...honestly) to ensure a healthy generation of the farms future herd.

You could tell the heffers have calved by the firmness of their udders and teats, the roundness of their bellies or if there is any bruising, tearing or trauma to the vagina during the birth process. You can see the cows are ready to calf when their udders are swollen and teats firm (otherwise they are loose and saggy).

And sometimes you hear a plop and a thud with one just popping out right in front of your very eyes....

A new born Friesian calf at dawn,,,,,the beauty of nature

There were approximately 340 cows on the farm and the calving season has just started to get underway with up to 15 calves sometimes being born per day. Being a lover of animals, I innocently enjoyed working with the calves and learning animal husbandry from the farms vet Kris from the Philippines, but it was also the hardest work and at times emotionally draining. 

Everyday the calves would be collected from the fields from the springer paddock in a trailer, sometimes covered in mud and cow shit and can be extremely heavy for us young ladies to lift. Some of the mothers fail to have the maternal instinct and abandon their calves whilst others made me feel pangs of guilt like I was Cruella De Vil kidnapping their helpless calves in the back of a trailer - doing this, we also had to try and note down or remember the mother's ear tag number so that she could be drafted in to the new mothers chlostrom paddock, kinda like she's graduating to the motherhood club to discuss her child birth experience with the other cows haha.

Drafting the mothers out into the chlostrom herd, isn't always an easy task - it was done two ways; with either quad bikes chasing the new mothers around whom we wanted and us dotted around the paddock like posts to steer them in the desired direction - there's definitely an art and technique to this understanding animal behaviour. But I wasn't keen on this method as you can't hear any instructions clearly from the roars of the engines and the big area was too tempting for the cows to change direction and for us to run in the mud (I nearly broke my ankle getting stuck in the heavy mud running out of the way of a cow!). We'd also have to shout, make funny noises and flay our arms around to keep the other cows in check as its natural for them to feel safer and happier together.

The other, which had to be prepared, and was mine and the vets preferred method for the animals and for my sake, was to section all the springer herd into a narrow channel with a temporary fence line. The vet would then walk among them to find the new mothers and we'd calmly steer them out of the paddock through the channelling method, striking their numbers off in the drafting book like a register - making it a less stressful exercise, especially for me!. Phew. 

In the meantime.....the calves have to go for their first day of school.

The calves need to learn how to suckle on a teat for milk and are taken to the farm calf nursery to attend 'milking school' . 

Emma and I 'Dairy Queens' going to teach these little guys a thing or two about drinking milk

Lil Moomins eager for milk! with Herefords Jackie and Jackie Jnr on the far left

The calves are fed twice a day and you know they are hungry by the routinely 8am mooing echoing from the nursery sheds, just like dogs, excited to see you. They start off with 1 litre of warm milk each in the morning and another in the afternoon. They are starved for the first 24 hours away from their mother and fed the chlostrom milk which is the first milk taken from a cow to feed the new borns and tends to be a more yellowish colour. But first, the milk must be luke-warmed in a steel bucket nestled in boiling water to kill any parasites. You have to get it slightly warm as not to burn the poor calves throats when feeding them.

When the calves are first taken to the nursery, if they won't suckle on a bottle, they are tube fed chlostrom milk through a long straw into their stomach (which is not that easy to do and was done as a last resort to feed them - can't imagine its too pleasant having a tube down your throat!).

But sometimes all they needed was a little coaxing with the bottle, and others were just pure hard work to feed if they were of the stubborn kind (and believe me, they can be hard work!). They all needed to get 2 litres of milk in them a day at least, so there were a number of techniques I learnt through trial and error rearing calves such as squeezing their muzzle down on the bottle teat or tilting it towards me so they can get a taste for the milk and encourage sucking - that's the key.

When they start to suckle, at first celebrate.....because that's the hardest part done and let them breathe every so often so they can carry on sucking. First stage done.

Once they get a taste for the milk and the sucking action, you have to use your fingers in their mouth (wearing rubber gloves of course!) to guide them to the teat tray to trick the calves to thinking they are getting milk from the udder of a cow - kinda weird of all the fake rubber teats lying around the farm its almost quite rude haha!) Ahem.

The next stage is to try and place them on the teats on the tray every feeding so that they recognise that the tray means food, suffering quite a few unexpected head butts up the backside from eager calves wanting more food! They also get very disorientated having a good drink of milk and then going doolally as if they had a euphoric sugar rush, adorably confused and stumbling around unable to work out where the teat is again - so its a job of extreme patience and constant supervision, pulling boisterous greedy calves out the way so the weaker ones can be fed!

(If you were a professional member of dairy staff, the calf husbandry jobs are usually the highest paid job on a dairy farm and most popularly filled by women.....sorry guys, but apparently we have more patience when it comes to cute baby animals). :)

You could tell the calves were full when you look at them from behind, its belly is round and protruding from the sides, when they are hungry, they are flat on the belly and never stop moooing!!!!

and never short of wanting love too.....

Introducing 'Cowvin' B. Klein, our poster boy of the nursery with his brooding good looks and jet black hair and blue eyes, he was a stunner of a calf....the Fabio model of the calf world who got alot of attention....c'mon you gotta have some fun too! He was a beautiful boy and I took a shine to him, (and also my compulsive affection towards animals).

and then after alot of hard work at milking school..........eventually the idea is to get the calves feeding off the teat tray on their own.

Ta dah! A + class.....our work is complete and the calves can feed themselves from the tray. Phew!

I found that the black and white Friesian breed and the bolshie brown and white faced Herefords are like the border collies of the cow world, intelligent, quick learners and obedient. With no problem suckling, they can also work out quite quickly that the tray and teats equal food and are the easiest to train.

It was unpredictable how many calves were being born every day so at one time we had 70 calves in the nursery to feed which kept us extremely busy and was very noisy! They also needed to be given 10ml each a day of 'Pro Calf', a sweet, treacle like solution through a syringe in their mouth, as a probiotic for their digestion which wasn't always an easy task either!

It gave me an insight and appreciation for the job of a vet and the processes involved in animal husbandry of how much investment and work goes into taking care of animals and keeping them healthy.

Buy 'Pro Calf' for all your calving needs....ha!

Unfortunately, realistically not all calves stay healthy or survive the first couple of days of being in this world and mother nature would take them to cow heaven very early. The ones that were battling on we placed in the 'Sick Bay' or the infirmary to nurse back to health. Even brooding 'Cowvin' ended up in the infirmary and I nursed him for a week when he wasn't up for drinking his milk and his girlfriends were going off him.  

You could tell the calves were sick, when they showed little or no interest in feeding, were low on energy or were scouring (calf diarrhoea) which is a horrible watery yellowish loose faeces, so there was also the need to clean out all the pens and disinfect them to prevent disease with new bedding and straw, the calves version of the 5 Star Hilton.....

When calves are sick, you need to medicate them with 80g of Electrolytes for 48 hours before putting them back on milk again. Tubing them was a last resort for me if they wouldn't suckle the bottle to try and get some energy back in to them and covering them with extra bedding for warmth,,,,,even all the medical care couldn't save them sometimes... and.this could get pretty stressful if there was a bug going round with alot of them getting sick and involved being organised with their treatment.

One of my patients on the ward waiting for electrolyte treatment....awwww

Now, if you were born a Heffer and a Friesian or were an artificially inseminated female calf, you had won the lottery in the cow world as you had the golden ticket to be kept at the farm and become the next generation of milkers.

You could tell the female calves that were destined to stay, were tagged with a yellow ear tag with a number, showing what number calf they were born in the calving year, Herefords and Friesian bulls were also kept to be sold for cattle later or other pretty calves that were seen to be of value in the future.

The magnitude of the calves being born on the farm was purely to get the cows lactating, if the calf was a crossbreed or of no value to the Dairy Farm in the future, they were tagged and the bobby truck came to collect them when they were healthy enough to go ....even Cowvin, who I nursed back to health over a week, went on the truck too and it broke my heart....

But this is the reality of the farming industry and for alot of the calves it was a happy ending...

The 'keepers' were taken to a paddock of their own which was like a calf youth club for the girls and some lucky young Friesian bulls where they had their own field to run around in with 27 other calves in the fresh air totally free.

These girls were like wild teenagers who were needing to be fed twice daily too. This involved us filling a 'calf feeder' with about 60 litres of milk attached to a truck and drive into their paddock with them chasing us (was pretty funny) aswell as spiking their milk with enough Pro Calf to nourish them. The difficult part was, getting the calf feeder out of the paddock without the calves escaping, so through trial and error and near runaways so our problem solving skills were put to the test many times at the farm. Not only that, other surprises that sprung on us out and about was a charging black sheep called Albert, electric fences, a herd of cows blocking our way and carrying a dead calf in my lap in the back seat of the truck - the mishaps never ended!

Flo and I freeing Jackie....

But my favourite part of the whole experience, my favourite part, was taking the little girls and boys who had been in the nursery for a couple of weeks and were being kept on the farm, along the long drive to freedom, to the Elysian Fields themselves to let them go and be free.

Nothing is more heart warming than seeing a baby animal you've kept alive, mooing with delight and realising it can run free for the first time in its life.....it just feels damn good to see it and slightly tear jerking...

Run Jackie Run! 

The Dairy farm though wasn't just about milking the cows or fostering the babies.....the cows themselves needed nurturing too and it was a daily task to also do 'feeding out' in the paddocks.

In tractors with BIG bales of hay!. The tractors had a clever mechanism on the back which released hay as we circled around the paddocks depositing it behind us, like the pied piper getting the cows to follow us - if you want to get a herd of cows attention, bring in a couple of bales of hay and that gets them talking!

In other paddocks, the cows have a feeding tray where the bales of hay are lowered into it by the monster teeth of the tractor like a Tyrannosaurus- Rex about to pick you up!

As Carlotta found out...

And it's like magic...the cows just appear and make you the centre of attention, waiting patiently of course.

The farm also grew a potato like-crop specifically for cows called 'Fodder Beet' that they had as a special treat - once they had devoured a plot, the fence line would be moved so they could get another helping and boy don't though go to town on it! Cows LOVE fodder beat and its the only thing that will distract them from any other cow-like activities. Its funny, how cows....well....most cows, we're going 95% of them see a line of rope and are just know its out of bounds, so it was pretty simple to control them.

Plus shooting a video.... it would probably be the only time in my life where I would find myself in a field......of cows...

You can see in the video that I started to get a skin infection on my nose - it had started festering some time before I had arrived at the farm and progressively got worse if you're wondering what looked a bit odd in my photos. It was extremely itchy and gross but no plastic surgery was needed this time round!

Fodder Beet party.......mmmm

Everything on the farm was exercising practical skills, with the animals and the milk consuming around about 8-9 hours of work a day with a couple of hours off for a mid day break - but domestic chores still needed to be done and I usually got stuck in chopping firewood for the winter nights and cleaning dirty overalls.

A cats heaven, living on a dairy farm

Our house cat Theo and my furry friend, looking very much like the cat who got the cream - quite literally, an endless supply of it!  

The Love of Eros

There's nothing quite like the first one....people say about most things, but during the start of my time on the dairy farm, nature was calling and the calves were plopping out one after the other. But the first one was the one I favoured most of all.  

Some seemed to show resistance to nature, like they didn't want to come into the world because their time would be so short lived, and little did I know as I ventured out into the muddy fields to assist with my first calf delivery, it would be by chance that one lucky little guy was not destined to be veal......

I called him Eros.

It was only a couple of days into life at the dairy farm that Kris, the vet from the Philippines told me that he required assistance with a heffer who was having difficulty calving. I jumped at the opportunity like an excitable child to work with a vet, especially helping with an animal giving birth - this was the stuff 'Vets in Practice' were made of and an opportunity I would never have found myself getting back in the UK. 

The expecting or straining heffer in question was a black heffer in the dry/run off paddock which was surprising, as the heffers in that paddock were meant to be in their early stages of pregnancy - not giving birth already! so even though she was calving already, the little baby sure was having difficulty coming out into the world and had to draft her out of the herd so we could work on her in private. 

We were her private midwives - the vet and this pommie girl...

The poor girl (we'll call her Beatrice for sentiment sake) was in a state of stress, having difficulty straining with trying to push her calf out but it just wasn't budging. Huhhhhh....

I was not only going to see the beauty and miracle of birth, but also put this poor girl out of her misery. (It must be awful and soooo uncomfortable). Ping on the rubber gloves...

There it is, the little calf! it was actually in a normal birthing position, having the head and front hooves facing out. Sometimes calves are in a 'superman' position with only one hoof out and the other tucked in behind. Others in worst cases are completely the wrong way round or upside down and have to be manually rotated - how awful! The calf was still alive though as its tongue was sticking out, attempting to breath as it began to suck my finger - its alive!.

Notice the little layer of slippers on the base of the hooves? kind of like silicon gel? well the miracle of nature gives them that layer of slipper on the hoof to protect the mothers uterus and then wears down when they begin walking - how does nature know how to do that?!?

Is that a pair of chains I see? yes it is. We came to the conclusion that manual pulling with our hands was not enough and it was likely that the calf's head was too big for the mother to push out through her birth canal by simply straining. In some cases that I saw later on with other cows, when outside vets came in the middle of the night to help us, was the calf already had died inside the womb having been suffocated or the blood has been pushed so aggressively to its head through straining, that it swells. The corpse begins to rot which will kill the mother too unless it is C sectioned or manually pulled out. The worse case scenario is the mother has to be euthanised when she got dealt a bad hand by nature and the calf grew to big for its head to pass through her pelvic bone. 

So really, its all a game of luck with calving,

After the break on 'Vets in Practice'.....

Chains are attached around the front hooves as an anchor point to pull the calf out, well.....we would try and pull it out but it wasn't going to be enough to get its head out. Once the head is through the birth canal, the shoulders and everything else is a piece of cake. 

But....unfortunately our tugs were not giving us much progress and I'm sure Mama Beatrice wanted the calf out....so.....we had to use our last resort.....no, no, no, not the.....

'Calving Jack'.....dun, dun, dun!

I'm sure every cow would shudder at the words of 'calving jack' an instrument that sounds like a car jack,,,,,,yes, because it is exactly like a car jack!

The calving jack is probably one of the best veterinary instruments invented, but it sounds like a horrible instrument used in torturing doesn't it? it was the only way we could save mother and baby.

Beatrice needed to be confined into a channel in the yard so that she couldn't panic and move around, helping us get the calf out of her before you suffers anymore. Fixing the chains on the hooves to the jack, lubricating her vagina, you literally jack the calf through the birth canal with the ratchet. You can see the calf's tongue now sticking out as it begins to gradually slide out into the world - this is probably very discomforting for the mother with her vagina stretching but our guesses were right, that the calf was unable to be born because he had such a big melon head!

Its a boy! a big beautiful black and white boy! he has to be a Friesian! his huge body slid out with a mighty thud on the ground and seemed to lie motionless for a while as he got his bearings and discovered fresh air and not being trapped in a tunnel of placenta anymore. I never realised heffers could hold calves this big inside them, no wonder she was having problems!

Kris and I checked that he was alive and was breathing normally, it must have felt quite literally a new lease of life for the little guy as he began to wake up, disorientated in this new world of sunshine, cold air and mud.

After the calf is born, placenta, blood and afterbirth goo follows and we comfort poor Beatrice who just collapses after the stressful ordeal of birthing. Strategically, with big animals, you have to be careful rolling them over so they can get up. I just wanted to give her a kiss on the head and say 'Well done honey'. Animals need delivery crews too....in the wild, they would just suffer and die. 

Look, just for you...here's a closer look!

Look how gorgeous he is! How sweet and innocent, covered in slime....

I don't know whether its being a woman, having maternal extincts towards small things, but the first time you help bring a baby animal into the world, see it as a being, its eyes looking at you and its soul is there......you can't help but love it and be nurturing to something you helped save and bring in to the world.....

I named him Eros after the Greek 'God of Love' with his pair of white wings that spread across his rump and his white heart shape on his forehead. 

You don't want to nurse the calf too much straight away as the mother needs space and time to cleanse all the goo off him and to bond, especially now Beatrice was up on her feet and able to smother him with licks, very much like a 'calf wash' service.  It was so beautiful to see nature at its work and that she was calm and happy we'd helped her. At least, I hope she appreciated it! 

The next day.....

Mother and Son were doing great and look how spunky, fluffy and clean Eros looks! we had left them overnight in the pen where he was born and the next day had to move them further down into a field with greenery so Beatrice could have something to chomp on and have access to a water tank
Little Eros had trouble walking, being a day old and stumbled behind his mother like he was on little stilts, us guiding him the right direction as he slowly planted his small hooves in the mud ambling along. It was amazing to see him now attempting to walk and move around after seeing his hooves and tongue sticking out of his mums butt half the day before. It was so charming.

Kris and I would go back to Eros and Beatrice to check on them regularly, but Kris saw that Beatrice had really abandoned Eros in the corner of the field where we'd left him, having little interest in nurturing him.

So we brought him to the nursery.

Having been abandoned by his mother made me even more nurturing towards him and made it my responsibility to look after him, giving him special attention. He was the most beautiful calf you could ever imagine with the perfect temperament, I would get up early to feed him warm milk first, always drinking all his milk with no problems suckling (I didn't even need to train him), helping him walk a little better around the pen with the other calves, no headbutting, and was extremely affectionate - often following me to the fence, mooing as I was leaving.

I spent alot of time in the nursey with him, laying with his big head in my lap, sighing and resting his eyes, drifting into a blissful slumber. Calves, I discovered, are very much like playful dogs, who just want to be fed and loved and believe it or not enjoy affection!

But one day, I got a nasty surprise. I came to feed him (first of course) and noticed his ear had been tagged, the purple tag........he was going on the bobby truck.

My heart dropped.

Eros was not a Friesian bull but a crossbreed. Friesians are identifed with having 'five points' - four white legs and a white star on the forehead. Eros did not have all white legs and was not going to be staying at the farm. 

I was absolutely crushed and the idea of him being taken away on the truck devastated me that I got extremely upset like a mother having its baby being taken away. Call me dramatic, but that's what it felt like, bringing him into the world and keeping him alive. That realism was very hard for me to deal with and I couldn't look at him without getting teary eyed. 

The truck was coming a couple of days later to collect all the calves that wouldn't be staying at the farm and on the morning it was due to arrive, I sat with Eros in the nursery with this horrible foreboding feeling of hearing the trucks engine but then also wishing it would arrive soon to put me out my misery, having to accept he was going to be taken. 

But the truck was late.

Then, fate intervened......Eddie, who dropped by to pick up bales of hay to sell at his petrol station told me that he was actually looking to sell a couple of calves to a friend who wanted to keep them for a few years on their property. Of course, I begged him to sell Eros and told him I couldn't bare him going on the bobby truck. I secretly moved him into a back pen in the nursery, away from the rest where he could merge with the calves who were being kept to sell later on the dairy farm. Eddie was clearly my favourite person from then on, 

Eros was eventually sold along with a Jersey calf to his friend with her husband and two daughters (I was there when they put him in their trailer to say goodbye) and gushed with thanks for giving him a chance to experience a well looked after life with a loving family, however short it may be. I remember sticking my finger into the trailer before it pulled away and Eros began to suckle on it, just like he did for the first time whilst trapped in his mothers womb, struggling to get out. 

So, for the love of Eros, it was a happy ending - he was the one that got away and I still have his purple ear tag to remind me. :)

See you next time folks, mooooooving on to the last blog of my travels across Aotearoa as I share my final chapter of my adventures from Quake City itself.... Christchurch - still smelling of milk,

Kia Ora

Peace and Animal Love

Christchurch, New Zealand

With Lonely Planet Travel Guide New Zealand 

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