Spring had once more descended upon us, and for the second time in my short life, I found myself heavy with child. Birds sang their spring songs and the wind, moving gently across the fields and hills, bore with it sweet, clean fresh smells. Music to my nostrils and lungs. The only evidence remaining of the cold winter were the odd patches of snow, framed by silver linings of melting ice, at which the sun slowly etched away. We had seen none of it though. Winter has been a season we were deprived of. Locked indoors, chained to small booths. But with the commencement of spring, we found ourselves once more ushered outside, with grass and sun. And above all renewed hope.
Inside me, I felt my child's restricted movements. Its ever increasing impatience, gently informing me that birth was impending. With encouragement, I sent out feelings of love, to be patient, to wait. Not yet. The time wasn't right.
My thoughts, without words, but thoughts nevertheless, retreated to the happenings of a year ago...
But that was the previous year, and although I still remembered (how could I possibly forget), time had slowly healed over the wounds of this traumatic loss. It is a hard and cruel life I have led. Only the simple pleasures have kept me going. I did not suffer alone. My sisters offered warmth and gentleness, though their circumstances were truly no better than mine have been. They too suffered the loss of their children at the merciless hands of humans. But I would not give up hope. I could not.
During the autumn, before the air turned cold and we were moved permanently indoors, the new one arrived. He was not like the rough-handed one, but rather much gentler. His voice didn't bellow, and showed no anger. His words were reassuring and comforting, and in him I saw kindness. He would visit us each day, offering soft words and firm neck-strokes. He attached the plastic tubes to the teats of my udder with more care and consideration. Though I was glad when this was over. The milking was never a pleasing experience. Rather a cold and frustrating ordeal, for although I am stupid, and have no words, I know what I missed, and for whom this liquid was really intended.
I felt sure he could help. He would understand and as the time drew near, I silently left the herd and headed off toward the stream, where I could see him working, in the neighbouring field. He looked up from his work.
"Oh.. It's you Emily.. You gave me a fright. What are you doing down here. You know you should be in the other field with the rest of the herd. Come along now. Get back with you."
Of course, I didn't understand his words, but his intention was clear, he wanted me to return. He pushed my head gently backwards, and slapped my side firmly, encouraging me to leave. But his voice was neither harsh nor reprimanding, so I stood my ground, feeling that the birth was imminent.
"Come along now Em. Don't be a silly girl. I don't have all day. There's work to be done here, can't you see. You be getting back now."
More friendly words, and gentle attempts at persuasion but he seem to mind my presence too much, so I stood firm, and waited.
"OK, stay there if you wish, but just don't come too close, or you're liable to hurt yourself."
He turned once more to his work, and whistled contentedly, and, I think, soon forgot about my being there.
After a while, I felt things happening within me. Very quickly and smoothly, my son entered the world. Bloody and small and helpless. I licked his face to free a passage way for air to enter his nose and mouth, and cleaned around his ears. My son. No one could deny the love bond between us. I smelt him, cleaned him, and loved him, and he moved closer to me, and finding my udder, took his first taste of its rich milk. This is what I had been missing, this gentle creature's tongue at my udder. I let out a "MOO" of ecstasy.
"Yes... Hello Emily.. Well.. What have we here, if it ain't a young beef calf. And a fine one at that. You've done a good job Em. This will fetch a good price. I suppose we'd best be getting you both back."
He picked up my son, and carrying him over his shoulders, moved off in the direction of the buildings, two fields away. My son was scared, but I comforted him, licking him on his neck, and mooing reassuring moos. I moved off with them both, following closely behind, and feeling quite happy and content. He would look after my child, make sure no one took him from me. I was certain.
"You be getting back to the herd now Em. You've done your job. Go on now, get back. I'll come and see you at milking time…"
He left me standing there, and disappeared behind a wall with my son. I stayed there the rest of the day, where I could hear him crying out to me, calling for me, scared and confused. I mooed back and searched everywhere for an entrance, a way of reaching him. Eventually, I was pulled away by the rough-handed one, who dragged me to the milking parlour. Shock. My mind was in a turmoil, and severely stressed, frustrated. I had to get back to the buildings, to my son. How could this be done to me? Why? My son? What had I done? What had he done? What did we do to deserve this?
The following day I returned to the buildings, and called out to him, but with no reply. I returned there for several days, calling out, crying, but to no avail. Eventually I gave up hope of seeing him again, and returned to routine life with the herd. Out in the morning with my sisters, who understood my loss. Maybe you refuse to believe this, but my sisters knew. They truly understood, as the same trauma had also befallen them.
Came summer, and once more I found myself fastened to the rape rack. A bull, of jersey stock, brown and white and oversized, mounted me. Clumsy and brutal, planting his seed within me. Though I must hasten to add, I never felt, or feel any resentment towards the bull. How could I? His lot was surely much the same as mine, of this I am quite certain. All I felt was a frustrated pity. For both of us. For myself. This has been a hard and cruel life.
Life continued as normal. The daily milking, the gentle one stroking my neck as he had always done. But then of course I knew that he was no better than the rough-handed one. His touch no longer felt comforting, rather brought forth feelings of anger and frustrated loss.
Eventually the seasons changed once more... The Winds came, carrying cold air, and someone saw fit to move us indoors again and keep us locked there. In our small booths. Unless you have lived in one yourself for several days, you cannot understand what an experience this is. The days blend together, and only the strange lighting, and regular milking hours offer hints of the movement of the sun and sky outside. Those days indoors were truly the most enduring and perplexing.
For the third time in my short existence, I felt the growth of life within me. Slowly taking shape. This only succeeded in increasing the stress. I had to be outside when it was born, to hide my child somewhere. Yes, even then I had the inklings of a plan forming within my mind. Naturally, I did not want my child to be taken away from me again.
Spring came, and we were let outside. There was no sign of the winter having visited, no tell tale patches of snow. Perhaps the winter had been mild, or perhaps our stay indoors had been longer. But then what do I know of winters. Only feelings, lost memories, I cannot explain. We kicked our legs about and breathed the clean air. So good to be out once more. Though as we were soon to discover, our roaming freedom had once more been restricted. An electric fence had been raised, cutting off the field to the west with the stream.
Several weeks later and the hour of birth drew nearer. Maybe tomorrow, I thought, as I sat down to sleep in the field. It was good to sleep out, to hear the wind and insects, and the gentle breathing of my sisters. Not now little one... Heavy with anticipation, I sent out feelings of love and encouragement to the child within me.
The following day, feeling the time was close and seeing a chance, I slipped away from the rest of the herd, heading for the woods. After searching around for a while, I eventually found a suitable spot. No one had seen me. I gave birth. A Boy. Beautiful and strong, and little and afraid.
I returned to the field... Later that day, the two humans came visiting...
"Looks like Em's dropped her calf, Frank.."
"Yep, sure docs, can't see it anywhere around though, no doubt she's hidden it somewhere. They do that sometimes. Crafty little buggers. Keep a close eye on her, no doubt she'll return to it later on."
"Sure will. Where d'you hide it, eh Em? In the woods maybe? Huh? .. I'll go and see to the chickens, then get back to work on the tractor."
"OK, I'll be loading up the pigs ready for the sales this afternoon. Will see you at 3 o'clock tea break."
I didn't know if they suspected anything or not. Perhaps they weren't even aware that I had been expecting. How was I to know how much they knew? I chewed grass with my sisters and tried to be calm. Night time came, and darkness descended, and only then did I dare leave the herd and venture towards my new born son. I found him where I'd left him, sitting there, calling out to me. I nuzzled my nose reassuringly against his neck. He drank thirstily from my udder, no doubt confused about where I had been, why I had abandoned him. I licked him, and moved my body closer to offer my warmth...
"Here they are Pete. Might have guessed they'd be here someplace. Not the first time this has happened. Little buggers bringing us out in the middle of the night. You grab the calf and I'll get Emily back to the field."
"OK. Looks like we got ourselves another future few hundred kilograms of beef steak. Will fetch a good price on the market this one. Good stock. Come along now little one, we won't hurt you."
What was happening? The gentle one had lifted my child over his shoulders, and was carrying him away from me. I tried to follow, but the rough-handed one barred my way, and urged me roughly back in the direction of the field. My son cried out for me, and in my panic and confusion, I leapt forward and around, away from the rough-handed one, scraping myself clumsily against the trees. Eventually I worked myself free of the woods. Out by then, they were already half way across the field. My son, frightened, calling out to me. Run as I might, I was unable to reach them before the gate closed. Barring my way. I watched the gentle one enter the buildings with my son.
I cried. I mooed. Oh believe me, these were traumatic experiences. Have you ever had your child removed from you, and not been able to do a thing about it? My experience was none the less painful without words to describe it.
Weeks passed, and I never saw or heard my son again. What kind of life is this I have to lead? Why? What have I done? .... In my own way, I have asked myself these questions, but can find no answers.
Four children have I had in this lifetime. Each one of them has been stolen from me. The constant irritation of plastic tubes on my udder has resulted in sickness and infection on many occasions.
Yes, I have truly lived a most hard and cruel life.
Written by Paul Wodzak.
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