Something to hide…
Clarabelle’s behaviour told us something was amiss. Although her baby was not expected for another week, something was odd. A firm favourite to be first to feeding, on this occasion Clarabelle was not. Apprehensively she walked up the paddock, every now and then casting a quick glance behind. A rather engorged sole teat was our first hint this 8-year-old Jersey cow had something to hide.
But where? With a clear view of the paddock, no little calf lay. But an enchanted forest that claimed the tiniest section of the rear part of this field offered an answer. With sleuth like precision, we made our way towards it but nothing looked suspicious. Nothing until we almost stood on a tiny bundle of brownness, ever so carefully hidden in the tall grass and camouflaged by fallen logs. We believe there are few things on this earth more precious and innocent than a baby calf. This little heifer, as she lazily blinked at the world with big bug eyes could surely have melted a polar ice cap. But this was no newborn calf; fully clean and dry was she, along with her umbilical cord – no afterbirth in sight.
Many who knows cows will vouch they have an ancient knowing, a wisdom beyond their form. They are like elephants in their memories. Renowned animal behaviourist and cattle expert, Dr. Temple Grandin, is credited with saying that the fear memories of cattle can never be deleted. This fact was borne out by the kindly dairy farm worker (from where Clarabelle came) who told us that the cows remembered which vehicle came and took their baby away shortly after birth. On subsequent occasions when farm vehicles would drive past they would behave no different, no different that is until the one vehicle that took their baby would return. At this point, the cow would become nervous, anxious and edgy, looking for the baby she would never see again.
Bless this sweet girl, who, having had each successive calf taken from her shortly after it was born, was determined this one would be ‘hers’. So stashing her baby in the forest she walked up the paddock as if nothing had changed. But everything in fact had, forever more things will be the way they always should have been and no one will ever take Clarabelle’s baby away.
While Clarabelle hid her baby for the most pure, honest and loving of reasons, the dairy industry has long hidden the fate of baby calves for reasons of profit. Like many we grew up with the romantic notion that dairy products were wholesome and good, and indeed they are. If, of course, you are a baby cow. Cows do not produce milk simply by virtue of being a cow; they are mammals and will only produce milk for their offspring. Once born, the babies are soon taken away from their mothers and the milk she intended for her baby is harvested for human consumption. The males, who will never produce milk, are killed, many in the first week of their life. Females can become herd replacement animals and some are even sent to China to meet a growing demand for dairy. Small, or non-commercial heifers meet the same fate as the males. If you love dairy products and don’t believe you can ever find an alternative, please remember this, mother cows love their babies many times more.
Footnote to this story: Clarabelle’s calf was discovered on Valentine’s Day. We christened her Valentine in honour of the love between mother cows and their babies. Valentine comes from the Latin word, Valentinus, which means strong, vigorous and powerful.
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