Yer wan’s been after me to go out more and socialise, but it’s hard to escape and not think of what could go wrong on the farm while you’re out – especially during calving season. I recently ventured out for a friend’s birthday, but was on my phone the whole time checking the ‘calf cam’. I was embarrassed to tell the lads what I was at when I left early; just said herself was missing me too much.

I’m functioning on a couple hours of sleep at night. I turn and twist over to my phone each couple of hours to see if everything is going OK. Even when you’re not supposed to be ‘on’, you have to be on, because Mother Nature never lets you rest.

Calf favourites

A few weeks before calving started, I noticed one of our in-calf heifers wasn’t eating. You’re not supposed to have favourites when it comes to your animals, but this particular heifer stands out. She’s a red and white Holstein Friesian mix – very rare on our farm. Usually, we just have the boring black and whites. Had a purple one at one point, but can’t remember why it was that colour, maybe it was something she ate. I think I called her Prince. She was rather fond of the rain.

Anyway, I quickly moved this heifer from the group and tried to figure out what the problem was. It wasn’t the food or water. At one point, I thought maybe she was a little depressed. In fairness to her, I had been playing a lot of Radiohead in the parlour. When playing her my Enya collection didn’t help, I knew I was in trouble.

I called the vet out and he diagnosed it as a twisted gut. There was nothing for it but to take her straight to factory. I was shocked. My lovely red and white was not going to make it. It was a double blow, as she’s in calf to a female (from sexed semen) from a high EBI bull. I couldn’t bear letting her go.

When all else fails, most people turn to Google or artificial intelligence to find a solution to a difficult problem. I, on the other hand, turn to the Auld Farmer Network (AFN). I’d call it the World Wide Farmer (WWF)

network, but that acronym is taken. The AFN works like this: you find an auld farmer (in this case, my father) who then turns to another auld farmer, and so on, until you find the right auld farmer who has an auld cure.

When all else fails, most people turn to Google or artificial intelligence to find a solution to a difficult problem. I, on the other hand, turn to the Auld Farmer Network (AFN). I’d call it the World Wide Farmer (WWF)

Now, as with any search engine, some of the stuff that comes back is garbage. You know yourself – the suggestion of the odd blood sacrifice, fairy offerings or reinforcement techniques through positive energy and chakras. Luckily, though, this time we heard of something that might just work.

We were told that if we melted down several pounds of butter, a few tins of treacle and a kilo of brown sugar in a pot until it liquefied – syrupy-like – it would encourage eating. It was fun to make – the house started to smell like Christmas again, although my wife wasn’t too happy with the state of the kitchen after.

Caramel lolly

Once it cooled down a bit, the next job was trying to get it into heifer. I don’t know if you ever worked with syrup, but it starts to harden very quickly and isn’t the easiest to suck out of the jug, get into a bottle and fire down the neck of a heifer. On the first attempt, she let out a loud cough and I got plastered. I looked like a massive caramel lolly. The father had a great laugh.

I got the hang of it eventually, and we dosed her twice a day for three days. We let her out to some nice, fresh grass and hoped something would happen. The first sign that we were making progress was when she had a bowel movement. I nearly cried at the sight of that golden brown lump appearing – it meant her digestion was starting to work. Then it happened: she took her first bite of grass.

It was an immense feeling of relief. It was slow going at first, but bit by bit she started to eat again. I’m glad to say she’s back to full health and – fingers crossed – her calf arrives in March healthy and not covered in caramel.

Now for my next column, I’ll discuss why buying your wife a new pot (to replace the one that got ruined making that special concoction) isn’t the best idea for a Valentine’s Day gift.

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