Have you ever tried to give a newborn calf its first bottle? Some take to it immediately, while others resist – they get that crazed-calf look in their long-eyelashed eyes and revert to what I call the death-roll. They swing back their neck and fall dramatically to their side, twisting and turning all the while because how dare you try to help them solve their hunger pangs.

It happens in human babies, too. Two out of my three children experienced latching issues and “nipple confusion” when, after months of breastfeeding, we thought we might want them to take a bottle every now and then. As I recall, I had to physically leave the country for a weekend before my middle child would take a bottle. Now, each year during calving season, I remember that struggle and laugh. Nipple confusion must just be my lot in life.

Tired and irritable

It’s a difficult time of year for other reasons, too – my long-suffering husband is up all hours of the night as the cows calve (in a way he rarely was for his own babies, might I add!). We are tired and irritable. We are still working our day jobs and trying to be nice parents and attending all of the after school events. We are also trying to be extra vigilant in terms of farm safety, because we know this can be the most dangerous time of the year on a family farm.

Another thing I always recall, at this time of year, is that lack of sleep is an actual torture technique used on prisoners of war. Years ago, my babies tested me to the limit and I have never fully recovered. Now, Irish agricultural research tells us the lack of sleep during calving season is a leading cause of farm accidents, and all it takes is one mistake. We make sure to let each other know exactly what job we’re doing and before attempting a difficult task on our own, we try to take an extra moment to stop and consider our course of action. It’s these little things which help keep us, the kids and our animals safe.

Things can get tense during a busy calving season, but it’s hard to be in a negative mood all the time. We have had some chilly days, but we’ve also experienced some delicious sunshine.

My garden is starting to come back to life and the daffodil bulbs we planted along our laneway this past autumn have burst from the ground in a way I never expected (I thought my dear husband had dug the holes too deep for the bulbs to break through, but I can admit when I’m wrong). Those cheerful bursts of yellow greet us each time we drive down the laneway; reminding us that warmer and – hopefully – sunnier times are ahead.

Endless questions

While we a while off yet having calves out at the grass, you can’t help but feel a bit of a glow when the spring sunshine comes out and the days get that bit longer. Instead of waiting for the kids to finish their music lessons in complete darkness, this past week I was able to go for a walk and get a coffee – not something a farmer ever usually has time to do. Despite the exhaustion this season always brings, I find myself with more patience for my kids, their endless questions and their endless messes.

Maybe it’s the calves. It’s their turn to keep me up at night and drive me batty by refusing their bottles. It makes my own three (and even the dear auld husband) look positively angelic. I am going to try to remember this the next time I walk into their room and can’t see the floor, or the next time himself makes breakfast and leaves every single cabinet door (and the microwave door) open. Or the next time I find used teabags unceremoniously dumped in the kitchen sink among the dirty dishes.

Yes, the days are getting longer and I am seemingly entering my Zen season. If you need me, I’ll be struggling to feed our latest Angus bull calf with visions of daffodils floating about in my head. ‘Tis the season.

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