Angelique, a Belted Galloway cow, presented the first of the new crop of calves this morning, a little heifer which, when I first saw it, was curled and looking for all the world like a very small black hole in our top paddock. There is nothing like a birth to remind you of the possibility of perfection here on Earth, but it is a grounded view of perfection, reminding us of the heavy cycle of life and death that we often pretend to ignore as sophisticated people- often living on the protein from these creatures without ever giving any thought to their dignity as fellow sentient beings.
You can't live with a herd of cattle without becoming aware of their sensitivity towards each other, their social relationships, their capacity to feel quite complex nuances of emotion, in general quite a few of the things that we regard as especially human. The more we concentrate ourselves in cities, the more abstract these lives become to us and the less we care to know about the grubby details of their lives and deaths- the births and the slaughter.
I walked over to this sweet little thing with the tools in hand to steal it's sex if I found it to be male- because if that was it's gender, the only future he would have would be to live and grow until big enough to be eaten. As it happens, she was not a bull calf, so she has some chance of living into maturity and having calves herself.
Tonight, wondering if the other cows might be ready to calve, we walked up to the little mob with a nagging doubt about the new calf. She was calm and quite self-possessed, but we hadn't seen her suck. Moving quietly amongst them- with the sort of supportive interest shown by all the other cattle (even the steers), I moved them about to see if the calf would take refuge at the milky place under it's mum, but she still hadn't connected with the working bits.
The defining, memorable moment for me came when, at the right time, I gently lifted the front of the calf and put the teat into her mouth. Half a ton of cow stood stock steaming still next to me, seeming to know my intentions and trusting my interference. We three soon leant into each other as the calf eventually got the hang of it and the cow made soft noises. It was all I could do not to make soft noises too.