Today, I’m thankful that our cow, Bella, is finally doing her job as a mama cow. After she birthed this fine little heifer calf, she walked away. Her mothering hormones just didn’t kick in. Well, we really didn’t want the chore of bottle feeding a calf, and we certainly didn’t want to stand by and do nothing as the calf would certainly have perished. So we wrangled a very sassy, snorting cow into the corral, immobilized her in the chute, and let the calf nurse off of her. We had to go through this procedure at least three times a day for a couple of days… but our efforts were rewarded! With the stimulation from the nursing calf, Bella’s instincts finally took over and she started doing her job. She’s lucky, really. A cow that won’t bond with her calf is a cow that quickly finds itself on the cull list. I’m thankful she redeemed herself! And I’m thankful for that spunky and persistent calf that knew what it’s job was!
We’ve all heard the old adage ” the grass is always greener on the other side of the fence”, right? While the phrase can have connotations far more nuanced than the literal implications of desire for green grass, I tend to prefer the pining for greener grass over, say, lusting after my neighbors fancy new car, someone else’s spouse, or a sprawling suburban McMansion. I don’t give a hoot about those things. Green grass, however? That’s where it’s at!Green grass grows cows and sheep. Perennial grassland protects our precious soil and if managed intensively with livestock, can sequester more carbon from the atmosphere than anything else. This is where the healing of the planet can come from, if we could just shake this belief that we, as a populace, have to grow more food in the form of annual crop production. And for crying out loud, let us stop growing annual crops for cattle! Let us grow grass. Not only is grass (or harvested and stored as hay for winter consumption) all a ruminant animal needs for its existence, pastures provide habitat and shelter for all sorts of birds, turtles, toads, insects, and small mammals. And one cow eating from one acre produces enough manure to make two acres fertile. But it’s not just a simple math equation, there’s an untangible symbiosis between the ruminant and the grass that is hard to explain. I like to think of it as magic. (I don’t feel the need to have an explanation for all things.) They are called “holy cows” for a reason. My eyes have seen firsthand this very farm that I call home grow verdant and lush under our care.Years ago when Eric and I moved to this farm we were struck with the realization that, indeed, the grass was greener everywhere else we looked. This farm that we so fondly call home had very depleted soils. The pastures, which at some point or another had all been cropland, yielded sparse stands of broom sedge peppered with a few sprigs of fescue. But instead of casting our gaze longingly over the fences, we set to making the grass greener right where we were. And years later, as our herds and flocks have proliferated, so has the grass. Eric has been an incredibly devoted grass steward, moving the livestock in their pasture rotation at least once per day and up to as many as six times per day. The transformation has been remarkable. I know in my heart that what we are doing is right and good.And now we’re rolling. The pastures still have a long ways to go but every day we draw nearer to the tipping point on the scales when the fertility spills over and gushes everywhere. Won’t that be a sight to see? And even when the moon is high and night is upon us and I am snug in my bed, the cows and sheep keep on working their magic and making the grass greener.
The world around me has turned green. Where I could recently see the contours of the hills, the trees have reawakened from winter dormancy and exploded with lush springtime growth, filling in the glimpses into my greater surroundings and the world beyond this hollow where I spend the greatest portion of my days, with many shades and colors and textures of green. The sky is much less visible around our homestead, as well. Now it’s much more elusive and mysterious. If I really want to see the horizon, and any weather headed our way, I have to take a walk up on the hill into the open pasture. There I see the rampant, fresh growth of the perennial grasses and legumes in our pastures flanked by the surrounding forests. There’s no way to count all of the different shades of green that I see. When I watch the animals grazing, I’ll see the cows and some of the ewes, but the grass holds a secret: sleeping lambs. Those lush pastures can completely conceal the baby lambs from view. I know there are about one hundred of the little ruminants, but I only see a handful here or there. I find myself wishing for springs for legs so that I could just sproing up high enough to see all of the white lambs hidden within the green grass. Oh, to be a bird for just a moment!
While there are many shades of the color green, in the context of our modern language, “green” has many more meanings than just the color. You might find yourself “green with envy”; or maybe living a very “green” lifestyle; or “green” to something new. This last one is exactly how I felt this afternoon when the girls and I accompanied Papa to do his chores. We have just begun the calving season on the farm, and upon our arrival to the animal”s paddock, Eric immediately noticed our cow “Sweetie” looking thinner and with a bloody tail, but no calf by her side. “Uh-oh,” says Eric. Upon walking through the paddock, we find the calf… abandoned by mama and still wet from being born, clearly not accepted nor bonded to mama cow. Bad sign. So we have a little what-do-we-do-now conference in the middle of all of the animals and decide our plan. We quickly get to work (I see my plans for a lovely evening dinner of Ira’s freshly caught bass and fresh asparagus from the garden slipping away…) and start picking up some of our extra portable fencing nets and start making a lane to the corral. Eric leads Sweetie there and we then load the wobbly new calf into the golf cart and take her to her mama’s side. With extreme effort of immobilizing the cow in the chute of the corral, and making it so that she couldn’t move away from the calf, or worse yet, knock it down with her big hard head, the calf finally starts to suckle from it’s mama. All of my children are right there witnessing the whole process: all of mama and papa’s stress and effort and questioning… and then our joy, tinged with apprehension, when it looks like things just might work. Well… I think to myself that while I may feel very awkward and uncertain about how it will all turn out, my children will develop a completely different picture in their heads. While I feel uneasy and very “green” to the entire situation, my children were completely relaxed and offering to help, and just wanting to be close “to watch”. Eric and I didn’t grow up with this exposure to livestock and are still in a very steep learning curve, especially with cattle. We have no idea at all how this drama will play itself out, but I am in awe of my little ones and their ability to not fret about all of that and just accept the moment for what it is. They have so many lessons for me.
And so the sun sets on another day… a very full, very gorgeous, very green day. As I walk through the pasture, hand in hand with little Livi, we enjoy the last light of day fading into a stunning sunset. She comments on all that she sees, and it makes me smile as we leave the pasture and enter into the darkening forest and she says, “Mama, we are in a tunnel of leaves.” And now, as I sit here at the computer reminiscing the events of my day, all of that green has faded into darkness. Another day comes to an end. But in my mind’s eye, I still see green.