The Woes of Heavy Clay

By Patricia Grotenhuis

When you are on a farm, there are good days, bad days, and days that look like they might turn bad but in the end are good.  In a job that is completely dependent on weather, animals, and crops, things do not always go as planned.

I had a several-day stretch recently where I was supposed to be helping my parents take photos of their dairy and veal farm, my brother’s beef farm, and my sister’s sheep farm. The goal was to make a nice presentation that they can use to explain their farming practices to customers.  Things went well at the dairy and sheep farms.  I was happy with the photographs I had taken, and was thinking the hardest part of the job would be selecting my favourites.  Then, I arrived at my brother’s farm.

My brother raises his cattle on pasture. When he had checked them before my arrival (a task which is done several times each day), he had found a cow stuck in the mud.  Now, in southern Lambton County’s heavy clay soil, getting anything out of the mud on a morning after a rain is not an easy task.  As soon as he told me, I dutifully pulled on a spare pair of rubber boots, grabbed some supplies, and followed him to the stranded cow. 

My brother spoke softly to the cow to keep her calm as he attached a special piece of equipment called a hip lifter around her.  Hip lifters are used to assist a cow with standing if she is weak, has an injury, or, in this case, is stuck and cannot free herself.  As I helped my brother,  I was slogging through mud that was flirting with the top of my rubber boots, while my brother stood in water that was well over his boots.  It was less-than-enjoyable for all involved.  We succeeded in freeing her and brought her onto the grass.  She looked tired, but otherwise fine.  As my brother stayed with her, the cow’s young calf made its way through the water and over to its mother.  Suddenly, the cow stood, and the calf began to nurse.  We were very relieved at this sight. 

Knowing the cow was okay, my brother set off to bring the rest of the herd onto a portion of the pasture with stable footing before the scene repeated itself.  Four stubborn calves were only convinced after their mothers were enticed to the edge of the water with a bale of hay, which in turn lured the calves across.  Eventually, all of the calves crossed and my brother fenced off the area so nothing else would get stuck before the ground dried. 
I could finally start taking photographs, and got all of the ones I needed.  I will admit that although I was thinking my office job is much less physically demanding, being in the pasture that day performing a critical task brought back fond memories of working on the farm before I graduated from university and took an off-farm job. And the experience made me miss working with animals on a constant basis.

When I first heard there was a cow stuck, I was worried the day might take a downward spiral, but instead, it was just a little valley between two hills.  It is impossible to know what to expect when working with animals, crops and the weather.  However, although the work may be challenging and at times frustrating, it can also be very rewarding.  The procedure just made me look forward to the day I will be helping my husband on the farm even more.

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