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Fighting for life – me that is – not him!

There is a roebuck up the hill- standing to peer at the Nog and me as we approach Sarah Justina’s monument mounted on the crag overlooking the farm. He watches us unperturbed for a moment and then bounds away easily.
Three swans skirt the fringes of the farm below me, flying east over the black water of the quiet river.
In the field below the calving paddock, two figures remain: Moira and her calf.
Down the hill on the farm one more, I herd the pair towards the gate and up the road to the holding pen. He is still not taking milk from her so I confine them to concentrate their minds. I am delighted at his progress, he is looking fit and even causing problems for me by running to and fro. it is the kind of problem I don’t mind having.
Except that Demi-Og is raging and howling at the gate to the pen – there is no sign of her baby at her heels. I scan the field – and spot a russet bundle lying against the woodland fence, exactly where Moira led her baby after I released her from the handling crate.
I have corralled her with the wrong calf!
I speed across the field on the quad, ignoring howls of Demi Og’s outrage echoing from the shed, and catch up to the baby just as he struggles to his feet. I pounce on him before he can totter of and remount the machine, settling him across my lap, and clamping him there as he struggles to escape. Both of us relax only when I have restored him to his mother who licks him vigorously on the the neck and under the belly.
But he does not feed-
-and he did not feed this morning.
Yesterday i was sympathetic, aiming to encourage his instincts. Whatever the reason, these are failing him, directing him to her rear not her side. Now I have ajob to do – get some milk into him.- with Moira in the handling crate, I wrestle him to his knees and when he opens his mouth to bleat blue murder, I stuff one of her teats into it.
He hangs there-inert- like a fruit on a stem.
Next I milk her into a feeder bottle – enclosing the teat loosely in my fist, bashing up against the udder, squeezing the milk released into the teat using forefinger and thumb and then folding my fingers strongly down the teat in sequence until the milk spurts into the bottle.
It has paired sounds, perhaps as old as any uniting man and beast: the first, thin like the whirr of a fly’s wings, as the jet hoses the vessel’s side; the second, plump and rich and as it plunges full into the frothing liquid.
The second stage is reached with the 3 litre bottle filled from little more than two teats; half of Moira’s capacity.
Now I carry him inside the shed, nestle him against a hay bale and present the brimming bottle, the teat softened in warm water. I squirt some on his nose, insert the teat into the side of his mouth. Instead of curling his tongue round it to squeeze out the milk the way I handed his mother, he uses it to eject my offering.
I have to work while the milk is still warm; drive a screw into a beam, fill the bag with half the contents of the bottle, cramp his struggling body between my thighs and insert the tube down his throat. The first time I may not be far enough down to avoid the lungs, the second time he struggles violently enough to dislodge the tube, the third time I grip him tight, slide the tube as far a I can against his gagging, and open the clip on the tube. The bag empties rapidly, he gasps and heaves.
If I am wrong I will kill him: if right -this abuse will buy him a few hours.
The shadow of his denial darkens the day.

 

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